Apprenticeship Completion, Certification and Outcomes

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Executive Summary

This project was commissioned by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) as part of a three-year research plan. The research was conducted by four research groups selected from the apprenticeship authorities in several Canadian (provincial/territorial) jurisdictions and from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), with advice from an independent researcher with experience in apprenticeship research and analysis of large scale survey data.

The purpose of this research was to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between apprenticeship completion, certification and outcomes. The main focus was on training and labour market outcomes, with a lesser emphasis on socio/demographic outcomes.

Previous research has shown that apprenticeship completion and certification conveys a substantial labour market premium. However, completion remains a challenge, with substantial numbers of apprentices remaining in their programs for longer than the nominal program duration and many others discontinuing. Statistics Canada studies have put the 10-year completion rate at about 50% for cohorts starting in the 1990s. However, until now, no more recent completion results have been available. Also, most studies of labour market outcomes have had to rely on broad educational credentials and self-reported indicators of labour market outcomes.

The unique contribution of this study stems from access to much more comprehensive training and labour market data than was previously available. The key data source was a series of three files constructed by Statistics Canada especially for this study, which linked data from the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS) to the main income tax return (T1FF) database. This yields much more definitive information on sources of income than any other data base, and provides a link between apprenticeship status and income. In addition, the researchers had access to comprehensive time-series tables from the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS) and the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which permits tracking of trades occupations and the place of trade and apprenticeship training in the context of the overall labour market.

With respect to training outcomes, the results show that the rapid growth in apprenticeship registrations over the past decade is beginning to yield a substantial increase in completions (allowing for the time lag from registration to completion). However, completion rates may have slightly declined in some jurisdictions, with cohorts from 2000 to 2003 experiencing a 10-year completion rate of close to 40% rather than the 50% rate reported in earlier cohort studies. After about six years, most of those who have not completed have discontinued. However, close to 10% remain as apprentices for 10 or more years.

Trade qualifiers (those who acquire the requisite work experience outside the apprenticeship system and challenge the certification exams) have historically made up 40% or more of those certified each year. This proportion is declining as the number of apprentice completions increases while the number of trade qualifiers is beginning to show a small decrease.

In the 2006 Census about 17% of the trade labour force reported holding registered apprenticeship certificates and about an equal proportion some other form of trade certificate. About half of all of those holding registered apprenticeship certificates and about one-third of those with other trade credentials are actually working in trade occupations. Taken together, these results suggest a considerable mismatch between credentials and occupations in the trades.

Historically, unemployment rates in the trades have tended to be slightly higher than in other occupations, especially in the construction trades. At all education levels below the bachelor’s degree, those working in trades occupations have higher median annual earnings than those in other occupations. Within the trades, those holding registered apprenticeship certificates and those who have completed college programs of two or more years have the highest earnings. Both median earnings and the premium for apprenticeship completion vary widely across trades, with earnings and premiums being highest for some of the mechanical trades and lowest for service trades.

The above results apply to the trade labour market as a whole. Within the apprenticeship status groups identified by RAIS and included in the linked file, apprenticeship completers have the highest employment income levels. One year after certification, apprenticeship completers earn over $7,000 more than trade qualifiers. Five years after certification, apprenticeship completers earn over $4,000 more than trade qualifiers. Trade qualifiers out-earn other groups in the years prior to their certification; however, trade qualifiers are on average eleven years older than apprenticeship completers at the time of certification.

In the early years following the registration year, continuers and discontinuers have about the same income trajectories. However, in later years, continuers begin to out-earn discontinuers. Long-term continuers tend to out-earn both continuers and discontinuers but considerably lag both completers and trade qualifiers. Again, in all cases, wide variations were found across trades.

Self-employment is relatively low among the various RAIS status groups. The exception is trade qualifiers in a few occupations (notably hairstylists/barbers, carpenters, plumbers and electricians) where self-employment rates are in the 20-30% range. Net self-employment earnings are much lower than employment earnings, with medians of less than $5,000 for completers and $7,000 for trade qualifiers. While about half of those who are self-employed also reported some employment earnings, the combined total for the self-employed was much less than for those employed.

For the 2008 RAIS groups, interprovincial mobility in 2009 was lowest for completers and highest for discontinuers and trade qualifiers. Trade qualifiers and certified apprentices with a Red Seal were more mobile than those without a Red Seal in 2009. Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan were the main destinations for Red Seal trade qualifiers. The Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan were the 2009 destinations for more of those with no certificate in 2008.

Longer-term mobility was examined by tracking 2004 RAIS registrants for all years from 2002 to 2009. Overall, the highest out-mobility rates were found for Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The highest out-migration rates were found for trade qualifiers with no Red Seal endorsement. Alberta was by far the most common destination province for all groups except trade qualifiers without Red Seal. British Columbia was the next most common destination, though the proportions there were much lower than for Alberta.

Much less information was available on socio/demographic outcomes. There is some evidence from NAS that apprentices have relatively positive views towards their programs and relatively few reported having significant difficulty with either technical or on-the-job training. Those with higher education levels and with prior work experience tended to have more favourable attitudes. There is some indication that long-term continuers have greater training difficulties than others.

The study confirms that women apprentices are concentrated in a small number of trades, particularly hairstylists (close to 80% women) and cooks (about 30% women), with very small proportions in most other trades. There has been slow growth in the number of women in the top 10 trades other than cooks and hairstylists and somewhat more rapid growth in other trades. Nevertheless, even in the most recent years, women make up only about two percent of the other Top 10 trades and about 11% of all other trades. There are also very few female trade qualifiers in any area.

Immigrants are also under-represented in the trades at about 8% compared to 20% in the population as a whole. The proportion of immigrant apprentices varies considerably across regions, with Ontario having more than the Canadian average, Alberta and British Columbia close to the Canadian average and the Atlantic region, Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan having much lower immigrant participation.

Time series analysis reveals that the trades have occupied a stable place in the overall labour market for the past decade, following a slight decline in the 1990s. The proportion of the trades in the total labour force depends on the specific definition of trades. This ranges from about 11% for the major apprenticeship trades to 17% for trades defined by NOC-S category H (Trades, Transport and Equipment Operators and Related Occupations). Approximately 35% of those working in trade occupations have trade or apprenticeship credentials. This has also increased slightly in recent years. Certification levels tend to be higher in the top 10 trades, averaging about 40% but with wide variations across trades, ranging from 68% for hairstylists to 13% for cooks.

Apprenticeship registrations have shown considerable increase relative to the total trade labor market over the past decade. Much the same pattern is found for apprenticeship completions, with the most rapid increase in more recent years, allowing for the lag between registration growth and completion growth. Since the mid-1990s, apprenticeship registrations have also grown substantially relative to post-secondary enrolments, with the rate of increase accelerating in recent years. Apprenticeship completions relative to post-secondary graduations declined slightly up to about 2002 but have increased in more recent years. Apprenticeship thus appears to be attracting an increasing proportion of the youth population.

Projections of labour market demand derived from the Canadian Occupational Projection System generally show stability or slight decline in demand in selected trades. Projected growth in apprenticeship registrations and completions for the next several years suggests that apprenticeship is likely to play an increasing role in meeting this demand. Nevertheless, these results must be interpreted with great caution because of the many uncertainties in projections as well as other unknown factors such as the proportion of apprentices and completers who are actually working in their trade of training and the issue of whether apprentices and completers should be counted as additions to the labour market or as already part of the labour market.


This report was prepared by four research teams, each responsible for one of the main components. The principal chapter authors were:

Chapter 3

Christopher Pepin (lead)

Kristal Hurrell

Chapter 4

Robert Crocker

Chapter 5

Steven Wald (lead)

Julia Wiebe

Gina Wong

Chapter 6

Nina Ahmed

Robert Crocker acted as advisor to the research teams and was the general editor of the final report and the principal author of Chapters 1 and 2 and a separate overview report.

The authors are grateful to Benoit Cadieux and Trent Craddock of HRSDC and to Micheline Racette and Cordella Friesen, Co-Chairs and the other members of the CCDA Research Committee for their advice and guidance throughout the project and their reactions to successive drafts of this report. We also extend our thanks to Anna Rigakis and Louise Desjardins of Statistics Canada for their work on the linked files and their prompt and accurate response to our many requests for statistical output from these files.

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