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Career Focus

Earn While You Learn


(Note: For the sake of simplicity I refer to “tradesmen” but you should know that women are also apprentices.)  

In the last few years, we have been increasingly made aware that Canada needs skilled tradesmen, perhaps more than it needs the lawyers or dentists that parents want their children to become. Why? Because of demographics! According to the government, the skilled trades’ workforce is aging and their replacements (apprentices currently in training) have not added up to the numbers that are required to replace them.

What is an apprenticeship? It is a hands-on training program for people who enjoy working hard physically, who are manually adept, who learn by doing and who would like to earn while they learn. Eighty to ninety percent of your training is on-the-job. The rest of the training—the theory underlying your on-the-job experiences —takes place at a community college. (There are some variations in apprenticeship programs but this is the basic model.)

A certified tradesman, who has completed his training, is known as a journeyman. He trains new apprentices at a ratio of no more than three to one. The journeyman is there to answer immediately questions that you may have as you perform a variety of tasks. You do not “get lost in the crowd” as so many college and university students do in classes of one hundred or more.

What if you do not know if you could be a skilled tradesman? There are pre-apprenticeship programs which prepare you for an apprenticeship usually with a co-op component so that you see what the work is actually like before you commit yourself. You can also get career counselling at any of the Employment Ontario Centres. Many union training centres and private career colleges offer opportunities to begin trade-specific in-class training as an entry point to an apprenticeship. They will also help you find a sponsor (employer) if you decide to continue.  

Will you make a good income? Many apprentices, upon completion of their training, make over $40,000 a year often with the employer they have been apprenticed to. Others start their own businesses as independent contractors in their fields. And they all have been earning a decent wage each year of their apprenticeships. They certainly don’t end up thousands of dollars in debt from student loans. And they have skills that will last them a lifetime.

Where do you find an employer? In order to become a skilled tradesman, you have to complete an apprenticeship successfully by working under the guidance of a journeyman, i.e., a tradesman with a Certificate of Qualification. And you are required to find your own sponsor/employer to take you on and train you in a particular trade. Until recently that requirement discouraged many would-be apprentices. Unless you knew someone who was a journeyman, it was a daunting task. Asking someone—a complete stranger—to take you on as an apprentice is a bit like applying for a job having no idea whether the employer is hiring. Needless to say, this requirement probably stopped lots of potential apprentices from following through. Fortunately, there have been a number of changes, which have made pursuing an apprenticeship much easier.

  1. Community colleges offer Co-Op Diploma Apprenticeship programs which allow you to get apprenticeship training while earning a college diploma.
  2. As already mentioned, a pre-apprenticeship program gives you a chance to try out an apprenticeship but it also leads to a real apprenticeship and sometimes counts towards the hours you need to complete it.
  3. You can find an employer through a website This website connects employers who want an apprentice and would-be apprentices who are looking for an employer.
  4. Employment Ontario will also help you find an employer.
  5. If you are a recent immigrant and a skilled tradesman, Skills for Change,, will prepare you for the Certificate of Qualification test and generally prepare you for the Canadian workplace.

What are the pre-requisites to becoming an apprentice? Apprenticeships last from two to five years. You must have completed high school and may require senior courses in math and science. All require good communication skills. The minimum age is 16 with no upper age limit, and all apprenticeships are open to both men and women.

What else does a would-be apprentice need to know? There are 22 regulated trades. When you have completed your training in one of these trades, you must prove you are competent in the skills of your trade by writing an exam for certification. You must receive 70% to pass. Then you receive a Certificate of Qualification. As a journeymen you can work anywhere in the province and in some cases anywhere in Canada. There are over 100 unregulated trades which means you don’t have to have a Certificate of Qualification although employers and unions prefer that you have “voluntary certification”.

There are four apprenticeship sectors:

  • automotive
  • construction
  • manufacturing
  • service.

Here are some examples:


Automotive Service Technician

Automotive Painter

Fuel and Electric Systems Technician

Truck and Coach Technician




Construction Electrician

Painter and Decorator


Industrial Electrician

General Machinist

Mould Maker

Tool and Die Maker




Electronics Technician


How can a person actually become an apprentice?

  1. First you must find an employer to train you. As already mentioned there are various paths to do this.
  2. Then either you or the employer must contact a training consultant at the closest Ministry of Education and Training apprenticeship office.
  3. The training consultant will meet you and the employer at the workplace and assess the ability of the employer to train you.
  4. There is financial help for tools, etc.

Consultants for Toronto and the GTA can be reached at: 1-800-387- 5656. Here are their addresses:

Toronto District Office

625 Church Street

1st Floor

Toronto, Ontario

M7A 2B5

General inquiries: (416) 326-5800

Front desk: (416) 326-5775

Fax: (416) 326-5799

Pickering Regional Office

1420 Bayly Street

Unit 1

Pickering, Ontario

L1W 3R4

Telephone: (905) 837-7721 or 1-800-461-4608

Fax: (905) 837-6726 or 1-800-461-5385

Mississauga Regional Office

The Emerald Centre

10 Kingsbridge Garden Circle

Suite 404

Mississauga, Ontario

L5R 3K6

Telephone: (905) 279-7333 or 1-800-736-5520

Voice-mail: (905) 279-7709

Fax: (905) 279-7332

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