Skip to main content

Apprenticeships in International Perspective: Points of Contrast with Ontario

Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Author: Nicholas Dion, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
Executive Summary:
This report examines the apprenticeship systems of seven jurisdictions – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, England, France and the United States – to draw comparisons with Ontario’s apprenticeship system. The purpose of this work is to help us think differently about how the challenges that Ontario’s apprenticeship system faces have been addressed abroad. While knowledge of Ontario’s apprenticeship system is assumed, the report closes with profiles describing each of the seven apprenticeship contexts in detail.
The comparative analysis proceeds according to six different dimensions: historical and cultural factors; governance; scope; participation; apprenticeship structure; and qualifications and completion rates. For each case, common practice abroad is contrasted with Ontario’s apprenticeship system with the purpose of highlighting the differences that exist.
The following observations emerge from the comparison:
  1. The success of the dual system model of apprenticeship in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is intricately linked to historical and cultural factors that could not be emulated in Ontario. In particular, historical factors have encouraged both positive perceptions of apprenticeship and strong employer participation in dual system countries.
  2. Though many of Ontario’s international counterparts operate with similar federal systems of government, in which matters related to education typically fall under provincial jurisdiction, an examination of their apprenticeship systems finds a much closer involvement of the federal government in coordination and decision-making than we find in Ontario, especially when it comes to legislation.
  3. While apprenticeship in Ontario is still largely restricted to the trades, other jurisdictions have expanded apprenticeship beyond this traditional sector into high-growth occupations in emerging areas of the economy.
  4. Apprentices in Ontario tend to be older than those in Europe, which affects the challenges they face. The International Labour Organisation identifies Canada and the United States as the only two countries in which apprenticeship is primarily used by adults (ILO & World Bank, 2013).
  5. Studies have shown that the costs of apprenticeship function as a major barrier to participation in Canada, especially for older participants. Despite this, many apprentices in Ontario must pay for the in-class portion of their training, and those who do not qualify for Employment Insurance are not salaried during this time unless their employers choose to top up or pay their wages. This stands in contrast to several jurisdictions abroad, where apprentices continue to be paid while training off the job and where in-class training is often free.
  6. Block release seems to be more common in Ontario, and Ontario’s apprentices spend less time learning off the job than do apprentices in the other jurisdictions considered.
  7. Any attempt to increase participation in apprenticeship should keep in mind the cases of Australia and England, both of which made changes in recent decades in an attempt to expand their apprenticeship systems and increase participation. While both expansions were successful in numerical terms, they also gave rise to questions about the quality of placements. Both cases demonstrate that expansion can be achieved by carefully marketing apprenticeship and by introducing the model to new, emerging sectors of the economy, but that precautions must also be taken to ensure the quality of the placements being offered and thus also the value and transferability of the credentials earned.
This investigation has also given rise to other questions that might be considered before undertaking any reform to Ontario’s apprenticeship system. The first concerns the quality of apprenticeship, as we know very little about how well apprenticeships prepare participants, especially youth, to have successful careers in a rapidly changing economy.
The second question concerns the relationship between apprenticeship and postsecondary education, and of the pathways between the two. The literature identified transitions from apprenticeship to postsecondary education as an area of weakness for many apprenticeship systems internationally. We might argue that Ontario addresses this need with its Co-op Diploma Apprenticeship (CODA) programs. In a province that suffers from negative perceptions of apprenticeship, an expansion of apprenticeship might consider proceeding through CODA and emphasizing its link to a well-established postsecondary credential.
The final question asks about the relation between apprenticeship and other forms of work-integrated learning (WIL) in the postsecondary sector. How could Ontario’s current emphasis on WIL in general, and perhaps coop in particular, be viewed as a competitive advantage in an expansion of apprenticeship? Could Ontario’s current focus on WIL be serving the same function as apprenticeship abroad by similarly helping students transition to the labour market? Does Ontario’s strength in WIL diminish the need to expand apprenticeship? These questions would warrant further consideration.

Click here to read full report