OSM recently commissioned economist and construction industry specialist John O’Grady to conduct a demographic survey of the sheet metal industry in response to pressure from certain quarters within the industry who have been pushing for a 1:1 ratio between apprentices and journeymen. OSM is opposed to this notion on the grounds that it would flood the industry with inadequately trained workers. OSM is critical of the proposal from another angle since it would make every journeyman a mentor, an unwanted relationship for those with no avocation for teaching.
O’Grady a partner at Prism Economics and Analysis specializing in labour market and human resources management and policy analysis is also an independent consultant with extensive experience in the construction sector through his associations with such groups as the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Canadian Labour Congress, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the Economic Council of Canada. Familiar with the needs of the sheet metal trade, O’Grady is the author of several published articles on industrial relations and human resource management issues, including his ground-breaking paper “The Underground Economy in Ontario’s Construction Industry” published in 1998.
With this background, O’Grady was well positioned to conduct an authoritative study to identify the approximate need for new apprentice intakes to maintain the existing skill base. Some of the factors he took into account included: age of the work force, age of retirement and the number of non-union contractors who operate outside of the unionized sector. In the end, O’Grady’s findings confirm OSM’s belief that there is no need for a 1:1 system. Rather, O’Grady discovered that the current ratio, roughly 3:1, is optimal. Based on his results, O’Grady concluded that if the 1:1 system were to be adopted, it would produce more apprentices than the market could bear. In other words, apprentices would be trained for jobs that simply would never materialize. In O’Grady’s view it would be fraudulent to impose this system. Lured by a faulty model, apprentices would invest in training only to discover that they might never have the opportunity to put their training into practice. O’Grady concludes, “There must be a balance between apprentices and journeypersons consistent with the needs of the trade. The ideal goal is to preserve the skills base and to ensure that apprentices can move seamlessly into the trade. The existing ratio achieves this goal.”