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Access denied: The effect of apprenticeship restrictions in skilled trades

Skilled trades workers – ranging from electricians to carpenters to welders – are a crucial component of the Canadian labour force. However, many employers report that there are shortages of skilled workers in these occupations. Federal and provincial governments have targeted many grant and tax credit programs to encourage workers to become apprentices in the skilled trades. However, myriad provincial regulations that limit how many apprentices firms may hire are stymieing these efforts and limiting apprenticeship opportunities. Provinces regulate whether workers must complete a certified apprenticeship in order to legally work in an occupation, as well as the length of apprenticeship terms. This Commentary finds that strict provincial regulations on the rate at which firms may hire apprentices, which is relative to the number of certified workers they employ, reduce the number of people who work in a trade. Furthermore, the trades in provinces with the strictest regulations on hiring have lower levels of young workers while workers who manage to find work in these trades have higher incomes, suggesting that these regulations are acting as barriers to entry. Governments have set these regulations in order to protect workers and the general public by encouraging workers to gain the proper training in skilled trades. However, entry restrictions are not the best means by which to regulate the quality and safety of work for all trades. Instead of regulating the rate of apprentice entry, governments should focus on regulating the quality of work and safety standards when appropriate. In other words, instead of regulating inputs governments should shift the focus of trades’ regulation to outputs. With recent moves by the federal government to encourage workers to enter the trades, it is now up to the provinces to eliminate antiquated and harmful regulations on apprenticeship.