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Nova Scotia takes steps to enhance skilled trades sector

By Evan Taylor Oct 19, 2023 | 11:22 AM

Premier Tim Houston and Labour Minister Jill Balser announced a wide range of changes to skilled labour regulations aimed at increasing recruitment and retention. Photo: Evan Taylor.

In a move to address the growing need for skilled trades workers in Nova Scotia, Premier Tim Houston announced a comprehensive plan  to recruit, retain, and train more individuals in skilled trades.

Under the new initiative, the Nova Scotia government is set to expedite growth in the skilled trades sector and modernize the entire apprenticeship and trades qualification system to cater to the demands of a rapidly growing province. The ambitious plan aims to bring 5,000 new apprentices into the system within the next three years, increase the annual number of journeypersons and trades qualifiers by 1,000, and raise the apprenticeship retention rate from 43% to an impressive 60% within five years, one of the highest in the nation.

“Nova Scotia is a growing province, and we need even more skilled trades workers to build our homes, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure projects important to Nova Scotians,” Premier Houston stated. “We are willing to make bold decisions and substantial changes to the status quo to become the skilled trades leader in Canada.”

Key components of the plan include changing apprenticeship ratios, launching a Critical Construction Worker Pilot program within the Provincial Nominee Program, introducing targeted recruitment strategies, offering incentives and personalized support for entry into skilled trades, enhancing apprenticeship retention through individualized learning programs, expanding capacity for mentoring and training, and providing faster skilled trades training at both pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship levels. Additionally, the government aims to change the way it connects and responds to the industry to further promote growth in the sector.

The changes to apprenticeship ratios will increase the number of apprentices training on job sites, ensuring a more streamlined entry into Nova Scotia’s skilled trades workforce. The introduction of the Critical Construction Worker Pilot program will focus on 21 in-demand occupations in the construction sector, particularly in residential building trades, opening up opportunities for those who may not possess a high school diploma.

The announcement was well-received by various stakeholders. Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills, and Immigration, emphasized the importance of innovative solutions to address the labor market’s increasing need for skilled trades professionals. Don Bureaux, President of the Nova Scotia Community College, praised the significant investment by the Province as a means to address the skilled labor shortage and diversify the workforce. Meanwhile, Duncan Williams, President and CEO of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, and Crystal Ingram, Executive Officer of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association – Nova Scotia, both welcomed the initiative as a solution to expedite construction projects.

The multifaceted plan, costing approximately $100 million over the next three years, comprises several key components;

Easier to Enter

  • Creation of more pathways to the skilled trades for newcomers.
  • Enhanced direct entry to apprenticeship programs for underemployed and equity-deserving groups.

Supports for Entry

  • Provision of wrap-around supports for potential apprentices, facilitating their completion of upfront Level 1 training.
  • Introduction of a new tools grant for individuals entering the skilled trades.
  • Temporary NSCC Tuition Waivers for high-demand construction trades such as Carpentry and Plumbing, offered as a two-year pilot program.

Supports for Retention

  • Introduction of new laptop and technology support grants to ease apprentices’ access to technology for improved training success.
  • Expansion of online invigilation, enabling apprentices with accommodations to access exams and exam supports via computers.
  • Creation of the Apprentices Progression and Completion Award Program.
  • Expanded access to personalized learning supports, including tutors and assessments.
  • Implementation of a new technology-enabled client support service center.

Building Capacity

  • Offering incentives for journeypersons and Trades Qualifiers to recognize their vital role in training apprentices, with a goal of increasing the number of trainers by 1,000 in the system.
  • Expansion of the waiver of Trades Qualifiers fees and exam fees for all construction-related trades until 2026.
  • Expanding the START program, particularly targeting SMEs in rural Nova Scotia, encouraging them to hire and progress apprentices.
  • Offering March break and summer camps for youth and newcomers to promote skilled trades.

Faster Training

  • Acceleration of technical training, involving longer days and shorter weeks, and an increase in virtual options to reduce time away from job sites and reduce waitlists.
  • Launch of a new pilot program enabling employers to keep apprentices on job sites three days a week and dedicate two days a week to training, with Hybrid Training Grants to subsidize apprentice wages.
  • Acceleration of pre-apprenticeship training at NSCC in high-demand programs like carpentry, introducing accelerated 6-month certificates and new 12-month diplomas.

Connect with Industry

  • Implementation of Industry Sector Committees with broader regional and diverse representation to provide input into the apprenticeship system.

Becoming a Skilled Trades Leader

  • Plans to increase community-based training through a hub-and-spoke model, maximizing the use of NSCC campuses.
  • Introduction of a Critical Construction Worker Stream to address labor market demands in the construction sector.
  • Implementation of digital client management and learning systems.
  • Launch of “My Creds,” a digital wallet for credentials.
  • Elimination of final level exams.
  • Alteration of the training ratio for apprenticeship.

During the technical briefing prior to the Premier’s announcement, provincial staff said further details on the particulars of all the changes announced will be released in the coming weeks.