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The Ontario provincial government announced plans to invest nearly $63 million in skilled trades training, much of which is expected to be directed to the IBEW’s local union training centers in the province.

The announcement was made during an event at Toronto Local 353 on Dec. 11. The local has launched a project to prepare 48 young people from historically underrepresented groups in the Toronto area for careers in the electrical industry.

The free program includes a four-month boot camp to train them in essential skills and safety, followed up by a 10-week job placement with a signatory contractor.

First District International Vice President Russ Shewchuk credited the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario for having the vision and courage to work with the party in power and find mutually beneficial areas. The Progressive Conservatives have controlled the provincial government since 2018.

In Ontario, one of those areas of common interest is building a construction workforce to meet growing infrastructure demands.

“We need more young people to know university isn’t the only path to success in life,” said David Piccini, Ontario’s minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development.

Shewchuk pledged that the IBEW will do everything it can to prepare young people for opportunities in the electrical industry.

“When faced with the challenge of losing the value of their members’ trade licenses, coupled with a new Progressive Conservative government taking over that was historically anti-­labour, the IBEW’s leadership in Ontario could have given up,” he said.

“Instead, they decided to think outside the box and worked to establish a relationship with a nontraditional ally.”

The provincial government said in a news release that the additional funding will allow about 18,000 additional young people to explore a career in the trades. There is a construction boom in Ontario, where additional skilled construction workers are needed to build out hospitals, transit systems and 1.5 million homes by 2031.

The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program will receive about $21.1 million, and the IBEW hopes to partner with the high schools. The program gives high school students who have finished grade 10 increased exposure through cooperative education courses.

The IBEW construction locals in Ontario have received $43.8 million in funding since 2020. The money has helped the IBEW and other unionized trades improve their training and recruitment programs, but the IBEW in Ontario is calling on the provincial government to better enforce the restricted trade license and maintain its value.

The previous Liberal-led government declassified the electrical trade license to a skill set and competency model instead of viewing it as part of a restricted trade scope, where the emphasis of a license is skills and safety for the public as well as the tradesperson.

After much political lobbying, the Conservatives introduced legislation that reestablished the restricted status of the electrical license in Ontario, but IBEW leaders in the province say it hasn’t been enforced adequately.

James Barry, executive secretary/treasurer of the council, believes that the work to build relationships with the Progressive Conservatives is paying off, including the rapport he has established with Minister Piccini.

“Protecting our trade license is paramount in all sectors,” he said. “When the unorganized electrical journeypersons and apprentices see the leader of the IBEW Construction Council of Ontario having a strong voice for the trade and their livelihood, it makes them think about the advantages of joining our great union.”

“We will continue to urge the government to better enforce the trade license on behalf of our members,” Shewchuk said. “We applaud the financial commitment they have provided to our locals to allow us to continue finding new ways to work together to strengthen our training and recruitment programs.”

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