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Relevance of Apprenticeship Ratios in the Plumber Trade in Ontario

This paper by William R. Lorimer, Ph.D. discusses the impact of high journeyperson to apprentice  ratios on the plumbing industry in Ontario from both an economic and safety perspective.

Most jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have ratios determining how many journeypersons must be employed for every apprentice in certain trades. Prior to 2000, many of these jurisdictions had set these ratios at three journeypersons for every apprentice employed [4], with minor variations. Since 2000, however, there has been a relaxation of these ratios, especially in Canada where they have been reduced by provinces to 1:1 or even 1:2 (allowing 2 apprentices for every journeyperson) or even, in some cases, 1:3 (3 apprentices for every journeyperson, as long as one of the apprentices is in their final year). Ontario is the only province in Canada that still retains the 3:1 ratio for plumbers (National Occupational Classification (NOC) code 7251).

The rationale for maintaining this restrictive apprenticeship ratio is two-fold: First, it is contended that the higher ratio results in better workplace health and safety records; Second, it is contended that without a high mandated ratio, employers would prefer to hire apprentices rather than journeypersons due to the lower wages paid to apprentices resulting in reduced employment for journeypersons.

We examined available data and existing research to determine whether either or both of these claims can be substantiated. In neither case were we able to do so. We found no credible evidence in support of the claim that improved workplace health and safety records are positively correlated to higher ratios, nor were we able to uncover credible evidence that employment of journeypersons was negatively impacted by a reduction in mandated apprenticeship ratios. Furthermore, a survey of existing research indicates that higher, rigidly applied ratios discourage the hiring of apprentices, thereby contributing to a growing shortage in skilled tradespeople

If the objective of the is truly to promote safety in the workplace, they would be far better to insist on a 1:1 ratio with a single journeyperson being assigned to, and accountable for, each apprentice, rather than simply having several journeypersons on site, with no-one being held to account for the apprentice’s actions and safety.

The public policy implications of these findings are clear. There is no economic or safety based justification for retaining the current 3:1 journeyperson-apprentice ratio at a time when all other jurisdictions in Canada have abandoned or relaxed this ratio. As such, in the absence of other arguments that might be made, and that are outside the scope of this paper, we recommend that the practice of requiring a 3:1 ratio of journeyperson to apprentices be amended; at minimum, the ratio should be amended to allow a 1:1 ratio or lower across the board, if not abandoned entirely.

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