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ONTARIO AT WORK - Special Report

Electrician pre-apprentices to get the green light

A new pre-apprenticeship training program for electricians launches May 1 with an application drive and a new way of entering the trade.

"It's our answer to co-op," says Bill McKnight, director of the Joint Apprenticeship Council (JAC). "We pay them, and they show us what they can do." Under the new program, successful applicants must complete a probationary period of up to 1,800 hours and required courses, afterwhich the JAC grants a contract of apprenticeship. Apprentices then begin working towards journeyperson certification.

JAC is a recognized Local Apprenticeship Committee under the direction of Local Union 353 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Electrical Contractors Association of Toronto.

It helps those applicants interested in pursuing apprenticeships within the construction and maintenance sector and the low-rise residential sector. Its purpose is to recruit, assess and educate apprentice electricians within the GTA.

Under the new pre-apprenticeship program, JAC will accept applications just once a year, based on immediate apprentice requirements for the industry. In the past, it accepted applications year-round.

It expects to receive 3,000 to 4,000 applications in this year's apprentice intake, which runs May 1 to 7. (Visit the JAC Web site at to find out more.)

The pre-apprenticeship training program is a provincial government initiative. Designed to increase the number of entrants to apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades, it has been met with some skepticism among those who think the old system worked well.

"We have never had a problem getting good applicants into our program," says Bob Gullins, president of Local Union 353. "There is pressure on trades to do things a little differently."

The new program could go a long way to attracting qualified candidates, McKnight says.

"Many students get the wrong message in high school," he says. "They're told if they can't do anything else, they can do a trade ... But to be an electrician, you need to be strong in math and English. You have to be able to interpret fibre optics and programmable controllers."

The program could also help address the challenge of selecting candidates.

"It's difficult to decide if you're going to hire someone for life based on a half-hour interview," McKnight says. "You need to know they're suited for the job, are mechanically inclined and have the right attitude to survive in a challenging career."

At the same time, the changes will give pre-apprentices the hands-on experience needed to decide if they've made the right career choice.

"A lot of people don't really know if this is what they want to do," McKnight says. "This probation period will help them determine that."

It also gives them valuable insight into the trade.

"The construction industry is very cyclical," Gullins says. "People who come into it have to be prepared for that. Employment is not guaranteed. It's always been that way...It takes a certain type of person to get into construction and stay in construction."

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