Work: Preparing for Skilled Trades in Canada

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by Gilda Spitz

According to a recent headline in the Toronto Star on the topic of apprenticeships, “the skilled trades are kicking butt.” While you may not use that particular expression, it certainly conveys the message that the skilled trades are a good career choice in Canada right now.

If you are looking for work in a trade such as carpenter, electrician or mechanic, you have arrived in Canada at a time when skilled tradespeople are in increasing demand.

Skilled trades

In Ontario, there are more than 140 skilled trades, many of which fall into the following main categories:

  • Automotive: The Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association recently forecasted a 42 percent vacancy rate for skilled trades by 2007 – nearly 34,000 jobs but only 20,000 skilled workers will be available.
  • Construction: According to their website, the Carpenters’ Union operates the largest training facility of its kind in Canada, where students can learn skills such as general carpentry, resilient floorlaying, and residential construction.
  • Manufacturing: Trades such as precision machining, tooling trades, and millwrighting – 19 percent of Ontario’s jobs are in the manufacturing sector, and its revenue accounts for one-quarter of the province’s wealth.
  • Service: The service sector includes personal and business services such as network cable installation, tourism and hospitality.

Understanding the process

Knowing that skilled trades are in demand is good news if you hope to begin a new career in a skilled trade, or continue one that you started in your home country. But how do you get started here?

For some trades, you need certification from a Canadian source. For others, certification is not necessary. For example, to work as an electrician, you need an official certificate; to work as a general machinist, you don’t. For a complete list, go to

Getting certification depends on several factors:

  • If you have no previous training or experience, you can become an apprentice to learn on the job as well as in the classroom. As an apprentice, over the course of several years, you will earn money working for an employer most of the time, with several breaks to attend classes. When you complete classes and other requirements, and pass the examination, you receive your license.
  • If you already have skills in your trade from your home country, you must show your diploma and other documents to a governing body here, so that they can be compared to Canadian regulations. The Training Consultant may ask specific questions about the kind of work you did, to assess your experience.
  • Depending on the differences between your qualifications and those required in Canada, you may have to attend classes before you are allowed to write the examination.
  • You are ready to write the exam after you complete apprenticeship or after the governing body approves your qualifications (and additional training, if necessary). You may be able to use a translator during the exam.
  • You must also prove that you can speak English well enough to perform your tasks and communicate with your employer and co-workers. To do so, you may have to attend classes in English as a Second Language.

You can find helpful information on the Employment Ontario site at, including more details on how to get a Certificate of Qualification.

Learning a trade as an apprentice

According to the website of the Ontario Ministry of Training (OMT), “an apprentice is someone who learns a skilled trade on the job, under the direction of more experienced workers. Apprentices also complete classroom instruction as a part of their training.”

According to Tanya Blazina, Senior Media Relations Coordinator at OMT, most apprenticeship programs require an Ontario Grade 12 diploma or equivalent. To find out whether your foreign education meets these requirements, contact World Education Services at or ICAS at

OMT helps apprentices in many ways, including offering general training, literacy programs, and special help in mathematics or other skills. Depending on the situation, they also may provide scholarships and loans for tools. For a complete list of services, in any one of 25 different languages, go to the OMT website at

The details of the apprenticeship depend on the trade, but the first step is to find an employer who agrees to sponsor you as an apprentice. According to Howard McFadden, Organizer and Training Center Instructor for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 353, you should ask the employer for forms confirming that they have completed the registration before the three-month deadline.

After you find an employer who will sponsor you, you must attend classes from time to time. For example, to become an electrician, you must attend three sessions of in-class training, totaling 28 weeks over the course of five years, and you must have 2,000 hours of practical experience.

Similarly, to become an automobile mechanic, you must spend six months in class. According to Eric Kochberg, an apprentice at Hyundai of Thornhill, you can take those classes all at once, or attend two months of classes each year, over the course of three years.

When you finish your apprenticeship, including exams and other requirements, you are considered a “journeyperson” – a person who has demonstrated both the practical and technical proficiency in a specific skilled trade. Kochberg says it usually takes about five years as an apprentice to reach this goal in the automotive industry.

Other training programs

In addition to the formal training programs offered in apprenticeships, you can find other training programs as well.

For example, according to Mike Yorke, President of the Carpenters and Allied Workers Local 27, the Carpenters Union offers several programs:

  • Through the Ontario Youth Apprentice Program (OYAP), the Carpenters Union runs a very successful pre-apprenticeship training program in conjunction with school boards in the GTA and Durham. Students get the opportunity to attend training from February until May of their Grade 12 year, and then have the opportunity to work at job sites for further experience.
  • In the CHOICE pre-apprenticeship program, in partnership with the YMCA and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), students attend eight weeks of classes in a training centre, followed by four to six weeks of work, helping with renovations in the Toronto area.
  • In response to a serious shortage of workers in the concrete forming field, the Carpenters Union has recently rented new premises, at which students attend a six-week program, and then can usually find work almost immediately. “There’s a lot of growth in the concrete forming field right now,” says Yorke.

How much does apprenticeship cost?

According to OMT, a $40 fee is usually required for registration, but no fee is charged if you are participating in an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. There is no cost to participate in a Pre-Apprenticeship Training project.

Fees for in-class instruction are about $400 for eight weeks of instruction. Depending on the particular trade, there may be several instruction periods required during the apprenticeship, for a total cost of approximately $2,000. A fee of $100 is required to write the Certification of Qualification exam.

Getting certification for the trade you learned at home

If you have previous training and experience in a particular trade from your home country, you may be able to receive your certification without going through an apprenticeship program.

But you do need to provide documentation that shows your education and certification from your home country, and you must demonstrate that you can speak English relatively well.

According to the OMT website, tradespeople who have enough related work experience to meet Ontario standards and who pass a written examination receive a Certificate of Qualification.

The first step is to prepare the following documents:

  • Social Insurance Number card
  • letters from current or past employers, written on company letterhead and dated, providing the company name and address, the exact dates of your employment, your job title, and a detailed description of your duties
  • letters from the unions to which you have belonged (if applicable), with the same information
  • certificates, diplomas, or licenses
  • official school transcripts from your training, if available, that contain course descriptions

If your documents are not in English, they must be translated and signed by an official translator who has seen the originals. For help, contact the Association of Interpreters and Translators of Ontario at 1-800-234-5030.

Once your documents are ready, you can book an appointment with a training consultant, who will evaluate them and tell you whether you have the necessary skills and experience to write the Certificate of Qualification examination. If your trade is a compulsory trade, you will be given a Letter of Permission, which is a temporary license. The Letter of Permission, which is valid for 90 days, allows you to work until you write the exam.


Although the apprenticeship and certification process sounds complicated, don’t give up. According to electrician McFadden, “Persevere, work hard, and you WILL accomplish your goals.”

York, of the Carpenters Union, is similarly upbeat. He says that, “The construction industry is pretty vibrant in Toronto right now. The 125-year history of the Carpenters Union in Toronto is a testament to the success of immigrants, and there will always be a role for immigrants in this field.”

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