Apprenticeship: An Alternative to Bridging Programs

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If your professional degrees are not accepted in Canada and you don’t have the English or the money to get into any bridging programs, it might be wise to look at another line of education that leads to well-paying jobs.

Many newcomers have good educations, and would never think of working in construction or mechanical jobs because these were low paid jobs in their homelands; but in Canada a mechanic, a crane operator, or an electrician often makes more money than a person with a university education.

More importantly, most of the cost of their training is paid by industry and government, and the English used in the workplace is basic. It is good way to both learn and build Canadian work experience.

People in trades go through a three to four year apprenticeship program of on-the-job training in the workplace under a supervisor, as well as a series of short training courses every year, to reach Journeyman status as master tradesmen. Each province has its own training programs. Journeymen can then start their own businesses, or write exams for Red Seal certification which allows them to work in that trade in any province of Canada.

On the website there is a list of 50 trades that can lead to Red Seal certification.  On a second website,, you can use the Job Bank search feature to find out about the prospects for work in these trades in your community.

For example, if you write Industrial Electrician and Toronto in the search fields, it takes you to a web page with the current Toronto listings for industrial electricians and tells you the average wage per hour, $28.29. It also tells you job prospects are fair. If you scroll further down the page, there are buttons that tell you what the job duties are, what training is required and where you can get training. If you click on the wages button with the $ sign, you find that the low wage, usually for a first year apprentice, is $17.60 per hour, but the high wage that a Red Seal Journeyman can earn as a supervisor is $38.50 per hour, and in some other Ontario cities it is actually $40 per hour.

The first step is to get into a trades program at a community college. Although they are often two year courses, many people are hired on as apprentices after their first year. From then on they work a set number of hours in the workplace and return to school for a four to six week block of training to master a new set of skills. It can take two to three years after the base program in college to get to the journeyman level, but apprentices can expect their pay to go up as they complete each level of their training.

The cost of the “block training” sessions is very low. Employment Insurance and the provincial training department provide living, travel and sometimes childcare support while the apprentice is in school, and often employers will also pay a subsidy toward training costs.

In addition, apprentices who complete the first year of their apprenticeship program can apply to the federal government to receive the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant of $1,000. On completion of the second year apprenticeship program, they can apply for a second $1,000 grant. The grant is taxable but training costs are tax deductible too.

Many apprentices stop training after they have finished their second year of apprenticeship. The government offers the Apprenticeship Completion Grant of $2,000 in addition to the same training supports offered at the earlier levels as a way to encourage workers to complete their journeyman level in a Red Seal trade.

Apprentices can also get a $500 tax credit towards the cost of their tools when they file their income tax returns.

Because a journeyman can run his or her own business, a newcomer with a background in electrical engineering, for example, may find that qualifying for Red Seal certification as an industrial electrician may be a cheaper and quicker route back into their profession. He or she can always hire a Canadian engineer for those elements of the job that require the approval of a professional engineer.

Newcomers who have already got many of the skills of a particular trade can go to their provincial apprenticeship branch and “challenge” to be tested, to discover what level their skills qualify for in the apprenticeship program. Some provinces will allow an interpreter at the exam. With the test results, they may be able to skip the year at community college and attend the parts of the block training courses they may be missing to allow them to get their certification.

The next step is to find an employer to hire them as an apprentice. If the newcomer is close to the journeyman or Red Seal level, they may prefer to find other means to take remaining required courses. If they are unemployed and receiving Employment Insurance, the provincial training department may agree to pay some of the costs, otherwise student loans are an option.

There are a number of other trades and technical jobs outside the Red Seal program that also offer apprenticeship programs. Information is available at most community colleges.

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