Rules around the Canadian work experience required to enter many professions in Ontario are being rewritten, so I suggest that regulators should start planning now so they can adjust to this new reality.
On Oct. 21, the provincial government introduced legislation that would eliminate the requirement that people need work experience in Canada before being licensed to work in the skilled trades or a variety of professions. The proposed rules would affect most regulated professionals – lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, electricians, plumbers, hair stylists, teachers and early childhood educators – although health-care workers will initially be excluded.
In explaining the rationale for this significant change, Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, said that “newcomers in this province struggle to find jobs in their regulated profession for no other reason than bureaucracy and red tape … Ontario desperately needs help but they are being denied a chance to contribute.”
Skilled workers forced to ‘start over again’
The reality on the ground confirms that. Under the current rules, professionals and skilled tradespeople have to wait up to 18 months to obtain approval from regulators to enter their field. This delay forces many to give up and seek work outside their field, as they are simply unable to gain the Canadian work experience they need to be certified.
For example, regulatory body Engineers Canada states that although someone may have many years of professional experience outside of Canada, they will have to “start over again” to work here, “as most engineering regulatory bodies require one year of experience in Canada supervised by a licensed Canadian engineer before you can be licensed. For that year, applicants are called members-in-training.”
If that new arrival cannot find a firm willing to give them that year of supervision, they are caught in a vicious cycle that will means they will never be able to work in their field.
Health-care regulators exempt, for now
Once this legislation is passed, Ontario would become the first province to level the playing field in most regulated professions – except for health-care employees. We have all heard stories about foreign-trained doctors having no choice but to drive cabs in Toronto. This legislation will not get them out of their taxis immediately, but the government does say an assessment will be made “in the future” to see if bodies such as the Ontario College of Nurses and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario can be governed by these new rules.
Exemptions can be given
I am encouraged to see that this legislation includes exemption provisions for regulators around licensing. If they can demonstrate that an exemption from the proposed work-experience rules is necessary to protect public health and safety, the body overseeing any industry or profession can apply to the Ontario Fairness Commissioner’s office for an exemption. That office would review the request and make recommendations to the ministry, which would have the final say.
Other proposed changes include:
- Reducing the duplication for official language proficiency testing. Presently, people must complete one language test to be accepted as an immigrant and another one to be considered for professional licensing.
- Allowing applicants to register faster in their regulated professions when there are emergencies that create an urgent need for certain professions or trades. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a prime example of that.
- Ensuring the licensing process is completed in a timely manner.
Ontario needs skilled workers
There is no denying that Ontario needs more skilled tradesmen and professionals, and we need them working in their fields. According to government information, in 2016, only one-quarter of internationally trained immigrants in Ontario were employed in the regulated professions for which they trained or studied. This past summer, an estimated 300,000 jobs were left unfilled across the province, which cost Ontario billions in lost productivity.
Many regulated professions have been asking that the rules governing foreign-trained professionals be eased. For example, the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada said in August that governments have to focus on the skilled labour shortage sooner rather than later.
‘This is a “now” issue’
“One thing that has become even more clear over the past few months is the acute shortage of skilled trade workers,” said an association spokesperson. “This is a ‘now’ issue. This is not a ‘we need to train for the next generation’ issue.”
According to a report from BuildForce Canada, construction employment in Ontario is expected to include 23,540 workers by the end of the decade, six per cent more than 2020.
Sustaining this workforce will be difficult, BuildForce states, due to the expected retirement of an estimated 92,500 workers, or 21 per cent of the labour force. To fill that gap, the report states that 31,400 workers will need to come from outside the province.
“Based on projected new registrations and completion trends, several of its 21 largest construction trades could be at risk of undersupplying the number of new journeypersons required by 2030,” the report states. “They include bricklayers, glaziers, industrial electricians, and welders … the province is expected to welcome an average of 135,000 new international migrants each year between 2021 and 2030, making this population an important segment of the overall labour force.”
Contact me for assistance
Provincial regulatory bodies or professionals with questions about the proposed legislation and its impact on their work can contact me at Jillian M. Siskind & Associates for more information or guidance. Our firm has the trust and respect of a broad network of regulators and we want to help professionals find the legal solutions that work best for them.
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