The problem in the labour market today is the type of skills demanded versus the supply of those skills. Studies show that a significant number of people enter the work force with no vocational education or skills. The private and public sectors alike recognize that a stronger commitment to skills training and human resource development is critical to profitability.
What this means is that the jobs of the future will increasingly demand more training and education. In fact, a study conducted by Human Resources Development Canada showed that approximately 50 per cent of new jobs in the next decade will require more than 16 years of training or education.
A solution for job seekers to this growing trend is apprenticeship training. Apprenticeship is an excellent route into many of the new and existing jobs available today because it combines 90 per cent on-the-job training and 10 per cent in-school training.
The Ontario government, responding to the growing need for skilled workers, has expanded and revitalized the province’s apprenticeship training system. Recognizing, too, that persons with disabilities need improved access to apprenticeship, a project has been developed to meet their needs. The project, known as the Apprenticeship Revitalization Program — Disabled Access (ARPDA), will work hand-in-hand with the province’s goal of moving toward the elimination of barriers to the financial independence of persons with disabilities. It is the result of a collaborative effort on the part of the Ontario March of Dimes Employment Services, the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board and NOVA (a local umbrella group which seeks to advocate for quality in programming and services for persons with special needs). These groups, under the auspices of the project, are committed to increasing the number of registered apprentices by supporting persons with disabilities in apprenticeship training.
The ARPDA project fills a community need to improve access for this group through service development and partnership. Services offered through ARPDA may vary from client-centred counselling for apprenticeship training, access to information on regulated and employer-established trades, assistance in securing apprenticeship training, and workshops.
ARPDA will also act as a referral source to other community resources for skills upgrading. This community partnership development is valuable since most consumers require services such as rehabilitation, financial linkages, employer placements, education, apprenticeship information and job readiness development.
Community partnerships form the key link between ARPDA and the consumers in the program. Paul Curtis, a registered assistant cook apprentice, agrees. He is just one of the consumers who benefit from the efforts of the Apprenticeship Revitalization Program and the community service partnerships. Paul is confident that “apprenticeship training guarantees that you will have a skill that is recognized by employers…it gives people the skills they require to be successful in the marketplace.”
Paul was not always this confident about his future. Depression and anger were once a predominant part of his teenage and young adult life. His behaviour was erratic and unstable. At the age of 24 he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Paul was born in Whitehorse, Yukon, where he lived until he was 21. He began work at the age of 13 as a cook and dishwasher. Never certain what career he would choose, he felt that he could be a good cook — a trait he says, that runs in his family. His two brothers and sister also worked as cooks.
Since he moved to Sault Ste. Marie 12 years ago, Paul has tried to maintain various jobs. But unfortunately, he was hospitalized. During this time, he began to recuperate from the side effects of his disability. After leaving hospital, Paul became depressed. He was unmotivated and insecure, and had low self-esteem. Eventually, with the support of friends, family, and community services, Paul was able to head towards a more positive attitude about life and his future.
One service that provided him a caring, non-threatening environment was the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). It was here that Paul met supportive people who helped him to get back on his feet. During the four years that he participated in CMHA activities, he volunteered at a soup kitchen. It would seem that he really did have a calling to be a cook! Although Paul still could not find any paid work, he did not give up, because he knew that work would increase his confidence and feelings of self-worth.
Paul’s advice to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with a psychiatric disability is to “find strength in yourself every day to be motivated and happy, because one sure way to regain your confidence is by working.” Following his own advice, he continued his job search. When he applied at the Coral Coffee Shop and Restaurant, a popular eat-in nook in the downtown area, as a cook and dishwasher, he got the job. He has been with the Coral now for over a year.
It was on his one-year anniversary that a worker at the CMHA called to find out how ARPDA could help Paul get licensed as an assistant cook. I decided to meet with Paul and the worker to ensure that Paul met the Apprenticeship Board requirements.
Apprenticeship criteria in Ontario are straightforward and easily attainable for each occupation. A minimum requirement for most apprenticeships is that the person be at least 16 years of age. Also, for most occupations, a grade 10 education is the minimum requirement. In some cases, unions and employers are now looking for workers who have achieved grade 12 or higher, as well as competence in subjects like math, language and sciences.
Paul met the age criterion; however, he did not meet the minimum education requirement. He dropped out of high school when he was 16, having completed only a couple of courses at the grade 10 level. Hence, the problem arose of finding a learning institution that could accommodate Paul’s learning style and work schedule. With appropriate networking resolution, this did not present a barrier. A local adult learning centre with a “learn at your own pace” policy could accommodate Paul’s needs.
In early January, Paul registered with the Apprenticeship Board. To do this involved several alliances within the community. The partners included Enzo Mammarella, proprietor of the restaurant; the ARPDA program; the Apprenticeship Board; the Canadian Mental Health Association; and the education system. All of these supporters have helped Paul to reach his dream of independence, confidence and a valid, recognized, honourable skill which cannot be totally replaced by technology.
Some of the many benefits of apprenticeship are hands-on training under the guidance of a qualified tradesperson while earning a wage, learning a new and easily transferable skill, doing challenging and rewarding work and gaining job security for the future. Apprenticeship training is fuel for the future. It is a proven way to learn and to build a successful career.
The Apprenticeship Revitalization Program — Disabled Access will assist people to reach their goals and be successful. Paul is a good example of this success. As he puts it, “Apprenticeship training gives you back your self-worth.” As for his long-term goals: “I definitely want to do presentations promoting the idea that people with disabilities can work. I’d love to open my own restaurant and then teach my mom how to cook!…Just kidding, Mom.”
(Laura J. Pighin, B.Soc.Sc., M.B.A., is the Apprenticeship Coordinator with Ontario March of Dimes Employment Services in Sault Ste. Marie, ON.)