Breaking barriers and fulfilling a need: How Support Ontario Youth (SOY) matches qualified apprentices with employers in the trades sector
This charity is de-stigmatizing what it means to work in a trade and is helping a high-demand industry find much-needed employees.
Working in the trades can be both fulfilling and financially rewarding, but there’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to dismantling the stigma that this career path is an inferior choice.
It’s something that Support Ontario Youth (SOY), a charity that matches employers with qualified apprentices, aims to change.
“Decades ago, skilled trades were not promoted as a viable career option and was considered a less significant educational pathway. High school students believed that if they could not get into university, then trades were their only option,” explains Glenda Rahn, Program Manager with Support Ontario Youth.
“It has taken the re-educating of some parents, high school guidance counselors and teachers, so that they can better understand the educational pathway of an apprenticeship and how to promote it as a viable career choice that’s equal to, or better, than a university and/or college education. Post-secondary education is usually what people think of when planning to secure a career that pays well and provides purpose in life. Well, we say apprenticeship is also an excellent educational choice too.”
The other misconception SOY is trying to change is that only post-secondary graduates can become apprentices. Rahn says anyone can apply, old or young, even high school graduates. “At the high school level, there’s a lot of work to be done to dismantle the trades stigma. I believe elementary schools should be educating young kids in the many benefits of working in the skilled trades. To have a career where you can work with your hands, think on your feet, problem-solve, proudly build, create and stay physically fit is very rewarding,” she says.
Support Ontario Youth was developed in 2016 by the Ontario Electrical League (an association for electrical contractors) as a way to fill the high demand for apprentices and to be able to support them throughout their apprenticeship journey.
Starting out with 30–40 employers and apprentices in the electrical industry (309A), the organization has since grown to over 150 progressive-employers and more than 200 quality skilled-trades apprentices. SOY has since added plumbing (306A), millwright (433A), residential air conditioning mechanic (313D) and low-rise sheet metal (308R) with a focus on the construction and industrial sectors.
Staff at SOY have also grown from three to 15. This has allowed them to not only mentor and place more apprentices but also partner with organizations whose focus includes supporting underrepresented groups to succeed in the trades. These partnerships also allow SOY to develop a really strong wrap-around support system and ensure candidates are thoroughly supported, mentored and/or partnered with the right organization to help them succeed on their path.
How SOY supports women
SOY has a strong emphasis on making trades accessible and enticing to new Canadians and women. “It’s important that we access all resources and supports that are available to young women because women working in the trades do experience more barriers with finding employment. Working in a male-dominated profession and learning to develop a “thick skin” to finish their apprenticeship is only one of the realities that women have to address to succeed,” says Rahn.
“We recently worked with Build a Dream, an organization that delivers programs to encourage female students to explore careers where women are underrepresented. A few of our apprentices were able to receive a toolkit from them to help support their career. These are the connections and resources that need to come together to continually support apprentices in the trades.”
How SOY supports employers
Ontario is currently facing a labour shortage in the skilled trades. The Ontario government has pledged $90 million over the next three years to increase the appeal and awareness of careers in the trades, provide more funding for an apprenticeship program and provide increased benefits for employers.
According to a report from apprenticeship youth advisors, there were approximately 200,000 unfilled trade jobs in the province in 2019. The government predicts by 2025, as many as one in five jobs will be in the skilled trades, with a shortfall of 100,000 construction workers over the next decade.
SOY is committed to helping address this shortfall by matching high-quality candidates with small to medium-sized employers. They simplify the hiring process by taking care of the recruiting, registering, paperwork and screening for
- 309A Construction & Maintenance Electrician
- 306A Plumber
- 313D Residential Air Conditioning Mechanic
- 308RLow-rise Sheet metal
- 433A Industrial Millwright Mechanic
Approval to add 442A Industrial Electrician is pending. SOY is working with other industry associations to continue expanding into more trades in the future based on employer support and industry demand.
SOY acts as a one-stop-shop for employers and any supports they need when hiring and training an apprentice. “Part of our role is to support employers who want to hire, but don’t know where to start. We want them to understand that they’re a key part of this apprenticeship system and if there is a hurdle or barrier for them, any, we want to help them overcome it. This saves an employer a lot of time, money and energy when they’re trying to run a business,” says Rahn.
Services and supports include:
- Recruitment: With strict pre-screening practices, employers can feel confident they are receiving candidates who have the necessary skills, training and personality for the job.
- Access to funding: SOY helps employers by making them aware of funding initiatives from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, as well as understanding and accessing federal initiatives.
- Group sponsorship: SOY eases labour management by being a group sponsor. This means SOY holds the registered training agreement for the apprentice, so when an apprentice goes back to school, SOY can find another apprentice for the employer, if needed. This allows for labour mobility and allows them to help the employer keep their business running efficiently.
- Retention Support: SOY, in collaboration with each employer, can also offer an Employment Insurance (EI) top-up for their apprentices when they are back in school.
“One of the barriers to completion can be that apprentices don’t financially plan and prepare for the extra costs of going back to school. An apprentice should be budgeting between $1,200 – $1,500 (more if they have “adult bills” to take care of, which is a reality when we consider the average age of an apprentice is 28 years old), for when they get their offer to go back to school. The EI top-up program can be a retention strategy for employers and can alleviate the stress for an apprentice, especially if you are on EI without any other support.”
Giving apprentices a head-start by belonging to a Group Sponsor Organization
Not only do candidates benefit from being matched with employers, they can also take advantage of SOY’s guidance and mentorship on becoming a registered apprentice in Ontario.
For some new apprentices, this includes what to expect on the job, tracking hours and competencies, financial literacy and how to stand out as an “ideal candidate” for an employer.
In the event they do get laid off or find themselves unemployed while apprenticing, SOY works with the individual ensuring that their registered training agreement (RTA) stays active so their apprenticeship can continue funding qualifications and staying on the list for their levelled-schooling are just a few examples of this necessary support.
SOY also provides help with résumé writing and networking to help apprentices stay on track and get placed with another employer in a timely manner.
Employers and aspiring apprentices can find out more on SOY’s website. The organization also offers Tools in the Trades Boot Camps for a variety of sectors where candidates can attend an immersive 1-day workshop which includes guidance on interview skills, résumé writing and workplace etiquette.