December 15, 2019
Apprentice Profile: Morgan Jackson
By Jordan Whitehouse

It was the spring of 2016, and after four years of intense study at Carleton University in Ottawa, Morgan Jackson finally had her journalism degree in hand. But now she wanted to know one thing: how could she learn more about horticulture?

It’s not as strange of a question as it sounds. During her time at Carleton, Jackson, now 25, worked at the National Capital Commission (NCC), tending to the grounds at all six of the official residences, including Rideau Hall and 24 Sussex. She fell in love with the work.

“I can be a bit of a high-stress person,” she says, “and journalism can be very high stress a lot of the time, so being outside, the nature of horticulture, it was a great fit. I just loved it and wanted to continue learning and continue my career path with the NCC.”

But she wasn’t quite sure how to do that. A college program? More on-the-job training at the NCC? After a conversation with her boss at the NCC, the answer turned out to be a bit of both: an apprenticeship.

Ontario’s horticultural apprentice program is a form of post-secondary education. The big difference is that about 80 per cent of the training happens on the job — where apprentices also get paid — while the other 20 per cent happens in school over two 12-week winter semesters.

Typically, it takes between four and six years to complete the training and certification requirements, but for Jackson it only took two. This summer, she wrote and passed the Red Seal examination, which isn’t mandatory to complete the apprenticeship, but does look good on a resume. Now she is working as a gardener with the NCC.

Looking back, the apprenticeship program was definitely the right choice, says Jackson. “It doesn’t really disrupt your life the same as going back to school to do a diploma, and it incorporates itself into your life as opposed to you trying to work school into your life.”

One of the biggest upsides was financial, she says. Apprentices are eligible for over $4,000 in grants, and the Ontario government covers about 85 per cent of the in-class training costs. Plus, apprentices can earn a paycheque while they work.

There are plenty of financial benefits for employers who sponsor apprentices, too. These include tax credits, grants, and bonuses, such as the Apprentice Job Creation Tax Credit, which is equal to 10 per cent of the eligible salaries and wages payable to apprentices ($2,000 max). And according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, on average, employers receive a benefit of $1.47 for every $1 invested in apprenticeship training.

More than money, though, apprenticeships allow employers to mould apprentices to their organization’s specific needs, retain skilled workers, and better prepare for future workforce needs. Plus, recent studies show apprentices are more productive and have better health and safety performance.

Research also shows that the experience makes apprentices a lot more loyal to their employers. This was certainly true for Jackson at the NCC. Not only did she get lots of one-on-one training on the intricacies of caring for some of the most prestigious properties in the country, but the NCC sent her on numerous training courses as well. She now has her chainsaw and forklift certifications, for example, and is currently learning French.

The mentorship she received from her supervisor, Brigitte Morin, during the apprenticeship was another huge plus, says Jackson. “When I started as a student, I was pretty quiet and shy, not overly confident in myself. But my supervisor, she really helped build up my confidence not only in the skills and the training that I was learning at work, but just as a person.”

That confidence must have come in handy on June 5, 2017, when the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, visited Rideau Hall. Every so often, when dignitaries visit Canada, they plant a commemorative tree outside the governor general’s official residence. The NCC is responsible for these plantings, and so, when it came time to plant Ms. Bachelet’s eastern hemlock, Jackson was there to hand her the ceremonial tree planting shovel. “That was a pretty awesome experience,” says Jackson coolly.

As for the in-class component of the apprenticeship, Jackson did her two 12-week semesters at Algonquin College in Ottawa. There she learned everything from industry regulations to propagation to landscape construction to trade calculations. It was very beneficial, she says, adding that it was good at covering the areas she wasn’t as knowledgeable in or as strong.

And as for the biggest benefit of the apprenticeship as a whole, Jackson says it’s all about her future. “Because we’re not like plumbers or electricians where you have to get this certification, anyone can get jobs without it. But being educated with this apprenticeship in this trade, it really just arms you with so much more knowledge and skills that allow you to move up in your company. I know it does mine.”

After starting as a student worker at the NCC during her Carleton University days, Jackson worked her way up to the junior gardener position, a job she held for three years. This summer she got promoted to the position of gardener.

And next? Hopefully continuing that upward trajectory at the NCC. But at the very least, continuing that education. “I can never learn enough about horticulture. There’s always more that I want to know and grow in.”