The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Apprentices
/ Author: Kari-Anne March 2146 Rate this article:
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The Impact of COVID-19 on Canadian Apprentices

The pandemic has been hard on people trying to learn a skilled trade, but signs of hope are on the horizon

By Kari-Anne March, College and Marketing Coordinator, CLAC Career Development College

Last fall, 681 Canadian apprentices, preapprentices, and journeypersons responded to a survey sent out by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF-FCA) to help us better understand how apprentices have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As each of us tries to think about how we can make this new year a bit better than the last, we must first reflect on the year prior. Whether we are cautiously optimistic or justifiably pessimistic about what this year will bring, we are not through the storm just yet. As we move forward, we will consistently work to understand the impacts the pandemic has had, use what we have learned so far, and try to adapt to our new reality.

Physical Health

Approximately 86 percent of Canadian apprentices claimed that they had good or very good physical health prior to March 2020, with only two percent evaluating their physical health as poor or very poor. However, once the effects of the pandemic began to sink in, apprentices also felt a significant decline in their physical health. By July 2020, a new survey showed 72 percent felt good or very good, 22 percent chose moderate and six percent chose poor or very poor.

The reality is many Canadians were laid off from their jobs or were required to work from home. (Employment changes will be discussed later in this article.) This, in addition to varying degrees of lockdowns across the country, resulted in an increase in sedentary leisure behaviours, such as watching countless hours of Netflix; declines in physical activity as most gyms, fitness classes, and sports centres were forced to close; changed eating habits, and increased use of alcohol and other substances because, let’s face it, what else was there to do?

Mental Health  

Already an area of concern within industry, 20 percent of Canadian apprentices responded to having only moderate, poor, or very poor mental health prior to March 2020. By June, this figure has skyrocketed to 50 percent of all apprentices.

Physical and mental health are directly intertwined, so it only makes sense that a decrease in physical health would be matched by a decrease in mental health. But with 28 percent of apprentices struggling with physical health during the pandemic, what other factors are contributing to the 50 percent who are struggling with mental health?

While some may have increased anxiety and fear over their health and the health of their loved ones, others face depression from lack of stimulation or social interaction. Many people are burdened by job instability and other financial stressors. Many parents struggled to work, as they were suddenly required to act as a parent, teacher, caretaker, and employee all at the same time.

Technical Training

With restrictions put in place on all nonessential services in the spring of 2020, 60 percent of Canadian apprentices had their technical training postponed or cancelled altogether. Normally, apprentices use periods of layoff to complete their technical training, if possible, so that they can develop their skills and move on to the next level of their apprenticeship. But with technical training on hold, how do apprentices continue their education?

Some apprentices reported that they were able to access training online or through hybrid learning systems. Those options are extremely limited, especially within the construction sector where practical exercises make up about half of the learning requirements. While educators rush to adapt, the reality is that we are years away from a quality, sustainable method of no-contact training, leaving most apprentices in limbo as long as restrictions on education are in place.

Employment

As in all industries, Canadian tradespeople were no exception to job loss throughout the pandemic. Between March and July of 2020, employment among apprentices and journeypersons dropped from 82 percent to 57 percent across the country. Due to their inexperience, apprentices are often the first to be let go during times of economic slowdown, so these layoffs were more strongly felt by those who have not yet received certified journeyperson status, with 34 percent of employed apprentices and 21 percent of employed journeypersons being laid off.

Another significant factor of the layoffs was the province in which the tradesperson was working, and the type of work performed in each province. Overall, the construction industry was determined essential work across most of the country, but Ontario and British Columbia saw approximately 20-25 percent of full-time apprentices/journeypersons laid off, where Alberta experienced a 36 percent decrease in the same area.

Of those who became unemployed after March 2020, 79 percent stated that it was due to the pandemic. With the restrictions placed on nonessential services, decline in purchases of consumer goods and services, and the rampant development of digitization, workers in all industries have been greatly impacted by the pandemic in some way.

But there is some hope for Canadian apprentices, as a third of survey respondents had expected to regain employment by June 2020, with half of those expecting to return to work in under three months. Of those surveyed who were still employed, 67 percent of tradespeople maintained or even increased their work hours and 86 percent maintained or increased their hourly wage.

ConstructConnect’s chief economist, Alex Carrick, remains optimistic about the future of both the Canadian and global economies in 2021.

“As restrictions ease, pent-up demand will mean people will travel, go out to eat, and spend money again. Commodity prices might also push upward because of renewed interest in infrastructure projects. Some of the spending will go towards new data centres, 5G networks, and other information technology, but other commodities should also rise,” Carrick said in a podcast for the Daily Commercial News. This will both affect the cost of construction and push forward capital spending for owners of resources projects in a way we haven’t seen in a decade, he added.

Conclusion

When the lockdowns first began, someone said, “While we might all be in the same storm, we are not all on the same ship.” Be kind to others, but also be kind to yourself. Work to understand where you are struggling, strive to overcome your own obstacles one day at a time, and be patient on the days when it feels like you will never get through this. Here are some links to national resources to support you through the major impacts of the pandemic:

Physical Health

•  ParticipACTION

•  Canadian Food Guide’s Healthy Eating Resources 

Mental Health

•  Mental Health Commission of Canada

•  Mental Health First Aid 

Training

•  ConstructConnect

•  CLAC Training

Employment

•  Employment and Social Development Canada

•  Government of Canada Job Bank

•  CLAC Jobs

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