Government Control of Trades (Print Version)
by Harry Valentine*
Le Québécois Libre, October
15, 2012, No 304

There is presently a debate underway in Ontario in regard to that province’s plans to enforce compulsory regulation and registration of several trades. Workers in certain trades may have to pay some $100 per year to the newly formed regulatory body known as the Ontario College of Trades, while employers may have to pay some $600 per worker. Regulated trades include hairstyling, automotive technicians, motorcycle technicians and a host of other trades that do-it-yourself types of people could learn at home.

A majority (over 80%) of the members of the Ontario Construction Employers Association oppose the formation of the College of Trades, even calling for its abolition before its official inauguration in 2013. But the Government of Ontario seems determined to regulate numerous trades in the province and require compulsory classroom attendance at various colleges by apprentices. Some critics blast the compulsory trades regulation program as a tax grab while others see it as a means by which Ontario may maintain enrollment at community colleges.

There is presently an alleged shortage of qualified or capable tradespeople in Ontario and across most of Canada. Directly or indirectly, governments exert some form of control over a variety of trades that candidates may otherwise be able to learn at home through online learning, compact discs or correspondence learning. Several years ago, Microsoft and several other companies provided material that candidates could study at home, then achieve their certification through online testing. There was no need for formal classroom attendance, as an exchange of ideas could occur via online chat rooms and discussion forums.

Candidates could earn certificates that included the MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) and MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer). Many industries internationally have employed personnel who held the MCP and MCSE certifications, to keep their in-house computer systems operating. Microsoft seems to have succeeded internationally in providing industry worldwide with candidates who were capable of ensuring the smooth operation of corporate computer networks that depended on Microsoft operating technology.

Microsoft certification is a private system that functions independently of government. Government exerts control over apprenticeship programs that could also function privately. The shortage of capable tradespeople in numerous trades may by the direct result of government control over trade apprenticeship, instruction and certification. Ontario is perhaps the most reluctant of Canadian authorities to give up such control, on the basis that there will be nobody available to instruct a new generation of apprentices.

Numerous government regulations discourage candidates from following the traditional apprenticeship route in all but a few trades. A candidate who is without formal training and interested in a trade such as shoe repair or custom tailoring may work as an apprentice at an established business, should the owner be willing to take on an interested apprentice. The candidate may have acquired some prior experience through a hobby or pastime. They may gain additional skill by taking on more mundane tasks before attempting more challenging tasks.

Candidates who are interested in entering any of several trades have ready access to instruction via hobby kits, instructional video programs as well as instructional online programs. A candidate for motorcycle or automotive technician could gain experience at home as a teenager, helping to maintain a family vehicle as has been the case for generations. In the modern era, they have ready access to chat forums and online instructional programs. This author has personally been acquainted with teenagers who rebuilt a small engine (lawnmower, moped) without having attended a college apprenticeship program.

Many a teenaged girl has learned hairstyling at home, beginning with her own hair and assisting to style the hair of younger siblings. Many of the tools of the hairstyling trade are readily available in department stores and instructional videos are available online and on compact discs. A large number of interested women who never attended a formal college apprenticeship program are quite capable of styling their own hair and that of their children, partners, friends, and aged parents.

Several trades are extensions of activities that do-it-yourself homeowners perform in their own homes. The instructional videos are easily and readily available, as are the materials that a do-it-yourself type would need, from any of several chain hardware stores. Such people who undertakes renovations in their own homes could do likewise in the homes of friends or relatives, who could then acquire some skill as the assisting apprentice. They could acquire the skills they need without ever having visited a college.

In Ontario, provincial government officials would oppose any attempt to transfer the control of trade certification to employer associations. Under such a regime, candidates could learn the introductory levels of a trade at home, courtesy of instructional videos and using hobby kits, old vehicles or doing home repairs. They could then do online testing to gain access to an apprenticeship opening in a business willing to employ them. Employer associations could run safety training programs for some prospective candidates.

The famous American attorney Clarence Darrow began his career as an apprentice to an established attorney, learning the trade as he assisted his employer through a series of assignments and cases. In his later years, he defended several very difficult and now famous cases. Bill Gates of Microsoft opted out of a university degree program to develop computer software. Several famous inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were self taught and invented technologies that the modern world depends on.

Ontario’s proposal for compulsory registration of tradespeople is a combination of a tax grab and a grab for power and control over people’s livelihoods and ultimately their lives. It is a manifestation of crude and vulgar political behaviour aimed at protecting the interests of a minority of politically well-connected people. An absence of government control over trades could go far in terms of reducing the shortage of capable tradespeople in Ontario and across much of Canada.

There is absolutely zero need for government to abuse its power by initiating any kind of forcible coercion or compulsion against peaceful people who wish to be creative and constructive and pursue a trade. There may be hundreds if not thousands of people whose hobbies or pastimes may be the basis of a trade for which the market has a need. In a privately administered apprenticeship regime, these people could do online testing and acquire some certification to open a door to possible employment opportunities. Too bad that a government regime such as Ontario’s would never allow it.

* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.