Ontario students will be able to spend the majority of their senior years working in the trades while still completing a few compulsory academic courses.

The Ontario government announced on Wednesday the introduction of the Focused Apprenticeship Skills Training program, a new stream of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program aimed at accelerating the training and employment of young Ontarians in the skilled trades.

The FAST program will enable Grade 11 and 12 students to engage in apprenticeships by allowing them to take up to 80% of their senior courses through co-operative education. The program will begin in September 2025, allowing students to access apprenticeships from 144 different trades.

Students currently take one to two Ontario Youth Apprenticeship courses. The change will allow students to take eight to eleven.

Successful graduates of the FAST program will receive a seal of distinction on their high school diploma. 

The press conference was held at Judith Nyman Secondary School, one of the partners where students in Ontario will go to develop their talents in the skilled trades.

David Piccini, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, said that the skilled trades allow students to bolster their future and take control of their destiny. 

“This is especially true for the students here and other young people who have been told that university is the only path to success. And we know that is fundamentally not the case,” said Piccini.

He added that Ontario projects it will need an additional 500,000 workers in the skilled trades over the next decade to meet demand.

At least one in three workers in Ontario with an apprenticeship certificate as their highest academic credential is nearing retirement. 

Working in the trades not only accelerates the passion for the work but can also help some students with standard courses. Piccini highlighted the importance of experiential learning.

“The number of youth I’ve met on job sites who are working with employer partners, school boards, and teachers who are saying math was challenging, but seeing it in a construction context, in building a Habitat for Humanity home has inspired me to get my math credentials that I will need,” said Piccini. 

Ontario has invested over $1.5 billion in the skilled trades since 2020. The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program has more than 72 recruiters across 800 schools. 

Melissa Young, CEO of Skilled Trades Ontario, said that one in five jobs in Ontario are projected to be in the skilled trades by 2026, a statistic she expects to increase even more. 

She added that as of October 2023, there were almost 94,000 apprentices in Ontario, more than the rest of the country combined.

The new program builds on Ontario’s announcement from last March, requiring students entering grade nine or ten to complete at least one technological education course to help them consider future careers in the skilled workforce, including the skilled trades. 

Ontario also announced a new online job matching portal to match potential apprentices, journeypersons, and employers. 

The provincial government is also launching a new pathway to trades policy for those with prior experience who may lack some academic entry requirements. 

Piccini recently met a Ukrainian refugee with previous work experience in the trades but lacked a secondary school diploma and credentials.  

“This policy will create a new pathway for people with work experience or relevant skill sets in the skilled trades by creating alternative criteria to assess competency,” he said. 

The Ontario government was the first provincial government to remove Canadian work experience requirements, Piccini said.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing of hopping in an Uber, hopping in a cab, and hearing the driver is an engineer, the driver has some competencies in the skilled trades, or is a doctor or a nurse. I’m sick of it. And we’re leaving no stone unturned to address that,” added Piccini.

He said that Ontario is the first province to implement such a policy. He expects that many provinces will follow suit.

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