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Ontario to allow Grade 11 students to enter full-time skilled trades apprenticeships

Ontario is facing a generational labour shortage as many skilled tradespeople approach retirement age. Pictured are high school students working on electrical wiring as part of their preparation for possible apprenticeships. (Alexis Raymon/CBC - image credit)
Ontario is facing a generational labour shortage as many skilled tradespeople approach retirement age. Pictured are high school students working on electrical wiring as part of their preparation for possible apprenticeships. (Alexis Raymon/CBC - image credit)

Ontario will allow students, starting in Grade 11, to transition to full-time apprenticeship programs while still earning a high school diploma, the government said Wednesday.

The move is part of a wider push to address immense labour shortages as the province looks to build some 1.5 million new homes by 2031, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton said at a news conference in Pickering.

Teens who enter the full-time apprenticeship programs, which take between two and five years, will be able to apply for their high school diplomas as mature students, the province says.

The Ontario construction sector alone will need 72,000 new workers by 2027 to fill positions opened by retirements and labour demand, McNaughton noted. Meanwhile, about one in five job openings in the province are expected to be in the skilled trades by 2026.

The government says that beginning in the fall, it will launch consultations that could lead to lowering entry requirements for the 106 skilled trades in Ontario that currently require a Grade 12 education.

CBC Toronto reported last month that one big hurdle to getting more students into the skilled trades is a dearth of experienced teachers.

McNaughton said at the time that the Ministry of Education was working to find ways to get more teachers with private sector trades experience into classrooms and there would be "more word" on that in coming months.

The government's stated goal of building more than a million new homes by 2031 will be key to moderating housing prices in Ontario, which has some of the most expensive markets in Canada.

But the ongoing labour shortage has already put the province behind schedule. Data from the Residential Construction Council of Ontario shows 96,000 homes were started last year, well over 50,000 short of the annual targets needed for the province to fulfil its promise.

Contractors told CBC Toronto they are having to turn down work in every sector of the construction industry, including restoration, industrial, institutional and commercial, and renovations.