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Experienced workers win with pre-apprenticeships

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun


In the face of a skilled employee shortage, the mandate to maintain a competitive edge in the global workforce looms large. But with innovative training opportunities and savvy funding packages, this province intends to meet the challenge head on.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities seeks to bridge the gap between education and practical exposure.
Left: Students in the Humber College horticultural technician pre-apprenticeship program spend 20 weeks in school and 12 weeks at a placement to develop their skills and put them to use (right).


"There are different ways to recruit experienced workers," says Dave Raymont, information officer for the ministry.

One way is to encourage a direct relationship between education and community businesses through apprenticeships.

"The trouble is that employers want an apprentice who already has some sense of the work discipline for their particular skill set," Raymont says. By funding a variety of pre-apprenticeship programs, the ministry plans to sidestep the obvious pitfalls of requiring experience before receiving training.

"We invite colleges and training facilities to develop skill-specific programs that include a work placement component," Raymont says. "If approved, we will purchase a certain number of seats which are then made available -- free of tuition -- for eligible candidates.

The horticultural technician pre-apprenticeship program offered by Humber College is an excellent model of the system's success. Coupled with painstaking attention to detail, much of Humber's success can be traced to the multiple screening processes for both student and business.

"We begin with a stringent entry procedure," says Terrie Greco, program co-ordinator at Humber College. "The student provides transcripts and a letter of application -- we require a Grade 12 minimum and a diagnostic math and English assessment."

Having achieved the first level of application, the candidate enters the interview process.

"To remove bias at this level, a panel of four horticultural professionals conducts the interviews," Greco says. "They bring experience and diversity to the process and they know what questions to ask. The applicants that are chosen have a very high chance of achieving the goals we require of them."

The businesses involved must also satisfy several criteria. Well established and in good standing with Landscape Ontario, they should be able to offer at least some non-seasonal work.

The rapport that Humber College develops with the local horticultural industry helps it to effectively gauge the required learning for the apprentice hopefuls while providing a springboard from which to launch a better awareness of the industry as a whole.

"We invite community businesses to become stakeholders in apprenticeship training," Greco says.

The final challenge is the work placement itself. "On July 8, we will hold a networking session -- our students will bring their resumes and the participating businesses will attend -- it's a private job fair," Grecos says.

"We take great care in matching the right student with the right job and the right employer -- we want to minimize the risk for both the stakeholder and the apprentice hopeful."

The horticultural technician pre-apprenticeship program at Humber runs for 32 weeks. It includes 20 weeks of in-school training and 12 weeks at a work placement.

"It's a substantial commitment," Greco says. "But it truly prepares the student for a rewarding apprenticeship in horticulture. In fact, every placement we've facilitated has resulted in an invitation to apprentice."

(Aunie Edwards (a.edwards@rogers.com) is a Guelph-based freelance writer.)



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