Skills gaps pose a substantial cost to business in Ontario, particularly in the skilled trades. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s Ontario Employer Skills Survey, 41 percent of employers are currently seeking employees with trades training, with the greatest demand in the areas of construction and technology4. Similarly, a recent survey by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce finds that 30 percent of businesses in Ontario have had difficulty filling a job opening over the last 12 to 18 months, because they could not find someone with the right qualifications. Shortages are most prominent in those sectors that rely most on skilled trades—transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, engineering, and construction.5

Skills shortages translate into real economic losses. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that skills gaps cost the Ontario economy up to $24.3 billion in foregone GDP—as well as $4.4 billion in federal tax revenues and $3.7 billion in provincial tax revenues—annually6. Part of the challenge in closing skills gaps relates to attracting and training people in the skilled trades. According to Skills Canada, 40 percent of new jobs created in the next decade will be in the skilled trades. Yet only 26 percent of young people aged 13 to 24 are considering a career in these areas7. There are also issues of under-representation among particular groups that limit the supply of qualified people in the skilled trades. According to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum:

A typical apprentice in Canada is a male, under 35 years old. Only one in ten apprentices is female, even though women represent more than half of the population. Immigrants make up 3 to 5 per cent of apprentices, even though immigrants represent 20 per cent of the Canadian population. Visible minorities represent between 5 and 7 per cent of apprentices compared to 16 per cent of the Canadian population.8

Apprenticeships are beneficial to both apprentices and their employers, leading to a recognized and valued occupational credential. Trainees earn money and contribute to production while they learn. And while employers bear most of the training costs, they recoup their investments when the value of work performed by apprentices exceeds their wages.9 A study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum finds that for each $1 invested in apprenticeship training, employers saw a median of $3.08 in return. Employers reported benefits including higher bill-out and work rates and reduced errors and downtime for employees who had completed skills training and apprenticeship. Spin-off benefits included decreased employee turnover and increased customer retention.10