Is it time for you to formalize a proper apprenticeship program to nurture your next A-tech? Theres a better chance he’ll “cross the finish line” if you do!
By Allan Janssen
I’ve written before about the remarkable and inspiring skilled trades competitions that are held to showcase the talents of thousands of Canadian apprentices each year.
What I like about them is that they’re equal parts competition and celebration, and that they serve as a powerful demonstration to visiting school children that working with one’s hands does not mean mindless, dirty work.
The middle school and high school students that traipse through the competition halls, giggling and pushing each other, excitedly snapping up the giveaways at sponsor booths, clearly see the event as a welcome day away from classes. But I’m sure they’re also getting the message that skilled trades constitute fundamental, essential work that is challenging, creative, and potentially lucrative.
It’s not hard to appreciate the sense of accomplishment the young competitors feel as they practice their skills.
Indeed, at last year’s national competition, many of the apprentices wore bow ties as a symbol of the pride they take in their work, adopting a sort of uniform that demands the same kind of respect as a surgeon’s greens, an accountant’s sweater vest, or a lawyer’s three-piece suit.
As I said, these events are a cause for celebration… so what is not discussed is the unfortunate drop-out rate among apprentices. Recent studies show that across the board we lose about one in three apprentices after the first year.
Obviously this is a cause of concern for professions like automotive service which needs as many new workers as it can get as quickly, as they can get them.
Finding a way to stem this attrition rate was the main focus of a recent meeting of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum. Executive director Sarah Watts-Rynard shared the results of a “Crossing the Finish Line” survey of 753 apprentices who shared potential reasons why so many are leaving before they earn their tickets.
Despite the allure of good pay (cited by 53% of respondents), the promise of interesting work (53%), and job satisfaction (48%), apprentices were disappointed by a failure to understand the full spectrum of job opportunities and the lack of a clear career path. They also said they needed mentors to bounce their questions and concerns off of.
It turns out providing mentors to these career hopefuls has a profound effect on apprenticeship completion. Having a journeyperson who is invested in their development, and who is willing to teach them is one of the greatest influences to stay in the profession. It amounts to a support system for apprentices.
Shops that take this issue seriously enough to establish an in-house program to shepherd apprentices so they earn their ticket in a timely manner will be clear winners in the competition for new skilled workers.
This means not being satisfied with slow or no progress. Perpetual apprenticeships do not benefit the industry, the shop, or the individual.
According to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, apprentices who have not finished the program in six years are unlikely to ever “cross the finish line.”
As far as I can tell, this represents a huge lost opportunity to increase our ranks and strengthen the trade.
This editorial appears in the April 2016 issue of CARS magazine. Tell me what you think. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org