By Marc Husen

The Ontario Home Builders’ Association (OHBA) has been on high alert as the Ontario College of Trades continues to finalize its structure as the new self-regulating body for Ontario’s apprenticeship and skilled trades system—a College that assumed regulatory power over 157 skilled trades in Ontario last month. And while OHBA has actively engaged the College for more than three years on industry concerns and perspectives, it is increasingly apprehensive with the way things have progressed.

Established in 2009 through the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, the College was developed as a regulation tool to assist in governing the skilled trade industries. According to spokesperson Tristan Austin, the College gives “skilled trade professionals the ability to self-regulate the trades industry, just as nurses, teachers and doctors enjoy the privileges of self-regulation.” Austin says it is meant to serve as protection for the public from “unqualified, incompetent or unfit” tradespeople and will provide the public with a “fair and transparent complaints and discipline process.”

But OHBA’s Manager of Government Relations Stephen Hamilton is skeptical of the College’s pronouncements, particularly when they seem biased towards specific industries. Hamilton notes that OHBA is troubled that the unique nature of the residential renovation industry isn’t being taken into account, and OHBA would like to see the College create a special designation for residential trades. Hamilton adds that the industry is disappointed by the seeming lack of interest displayed by the College towards OHBA’s concerns for the renovation industry, a sector that the association represents, noting, “OHBA recommended candidates for many of the boards and panels, but unfortunately they were not accepted, so we don’t have much representation on these decision-making matters.”

OHBA believes that the layout of the current College of Trades structure does not take advantage of the opportunities the residential construction sector can provide in growing Ontario’s economy, along with building a modern skilled trades workforce.

In addition, Hamilton says OHBA has been advocating that the College establish an across-the-board one-to-one journeyperson-to-apprenticeship ratio. “While we have not had complete success with this goal, we have had some gains with reducing ratios in voluntary trades including roofers, masons, tile terrazzo and marble setters, as well as cement masons. We will soon find out how successful we are at lowering the ratio in larger compulsory trades such as plumbing, electrical and sheet metal workers.”

The bigger issue will begin after the ratio reviews are completed and the College accepts applications to determine if voluntary trades should become compulsory. The fear for renovators is that Ontario could shift towards the Quebec model, where every trade requires a separate ticket to perform construction work.  Hamilton notes that a typical bathroom renovation could require more than eight trades and, if every trade were compulsory, a separate person would potentially have to do each individual task. In rural areas where there isn’t the labour supply to support this, a simple renovation could become next to impossible to complete. “If we move towards the Quebec model, it would mean I would need a separate person to do the painting, plumbing, drywall, carpentry, lay tile—the list goes on and on,” says Stefanie Coleman-Dias, co-owner of Coleman-Dias 3 Construction Inc. “When doing small renovations, tasks such as painting, drywalling and tiling require drying time, causing the job to extend over multiple days. These small tasks are often rejected by specialist trades because the job is too small and there is a lot of time wasted driving back and forth to the site, especially when each step may only take a few hours in a day. If they do take the job, they have to charge a premium price or minimum charge simply to cover their costs. When you add all of these premium minimum charges together, the price for the homeowner becomes unaffordable. There is no way the market ould support this. More than likely, they will be so frustrated that they will just go underground and offer cash to do the work.”

“As a renovator, having to organize the work schedule around that many trades can quickly become a nightmare and create delays,” Coleman-Dias added. “It makes it impossible to provide the homeowner with the assurance that the work will be done on time, as each step of the job must fall in sync with the next. A delay with one trade has a domino effect and can cause delays with the other trades, therefore causing the entire job to take much longer than planned.”

Compulsory certification has the potential to handicap small and medium-size businesses across Ontario. Hamilton stresses that the association will continue to work with government, the opposition parties and the College to educate everyone on the negative impact compulsory certification would have on the home renovation industry.

“We were actively involved in the ratio reviews and, as the College begins to receive applications for compulsory certification, we will continue to fight for housing affordability and against policies that could encourage the underground economy,” says Hamilton.

Industry professionals are also becoming increasingly uneasy about new fees associated with College memberships. According to Austin, “individuals who work in the home renovation industry that practice in one or more of Ontario’s 22 compulsory trades will see their Certificate of Qualification renewal fee increase from $60 (paid every three years to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities) to an annual fee of $120 (paid to the College).”

These new fees require apprentices and journeyperson candidates to pay $60 a year, and individuals who hold more than one certificate to pay one fee of $120 a year. The Act requires employers to become paying members of the College, but as a result of OHBA’s recommendation, the employers’ fee and membership is now optional.

Austin contends that the College of Trades membership fees are “the lowest of any regulatory body in Ontario,” and notes that the College will “remove trades-sector decision making from the government and give tradespeople a voice in decisions that affect their work and businesses; make it easier for consumers to find qualified tradespeople through a public registry where member names, qualifications and standing can be searched; and protect and promote the competitive edge of certified tradespersons from those who work without qualification.”

But Hamilton points out that the industry has already made it easier for consumers to find reputable tradespeople with the RenoMark program that is in place, not only in Ontario, but across Canada. “The renovation industry in Ontario is actually well ahead of the government on this one,” says Hamilton.

As the College finalizes ratios, starts considering compulsory certification applications and puts in place an enforcement system for members, OHBA continues to focus on solutions to the skilled trades shortage in Ontario. Eric DenOuden, 1st Vice-President of OHBA, notes, “the College of Trades will not stop the growing skilled-trades gap. Home builders, renovators, trade contractors and installers welcome the opportunity to provide apprenticeships and help build Ontario’s skilled trades’ workforce. The best outcome for Ontario is that every capable employer can fully participate in providing apprenticeship opportunities.”