March 15, 2012
By Terry Murphy
Former manager of education, training and human resources at Landscape Ontario

Some people can’t see something when it is staring them right in their face. Apprenticeship training is one such example.

Many employers just can’t see the value, or don’t understand the program. It is certainly a hidden treasure that is waiting to give young people, not only a future guaranteed career job, but also one that will build their confidence for years to come. At the same time, the program will help employers make more money. The cost is basically zero, the educational value is priceless and it actually pays $4,000 cash to those who successfully complete the program.

Why isn’t there a line up to get into the program? Why do the colleges fight each year to secure apprenticeship enrolments?

I don’t know of any employer in the horticultural industry that doesn’t need to train their staff, especially new hires. Training and knowledge allows your employees to perform to an accepted level for exceptional customer service and for the firm to obtain repeat business.

Apprenticeship training does this for you. It educates the employee in what you require, because you (industry employers) wrote the apprenticeship-training program. Yes, the industry committee developed and also monitors the curriculum. So it is your training program that gives you what you want. Yet, why is it that many employers won’t partner with their own program and make it a standard part of their company’s education and training program?

Why not let professional educators, all current industry practising professionals, educate your staff for you? Why not have your employees engaged during the off-season in education and training? Why not let the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities (MTCU) Apprenticeship Program be your company’s training program? This is solid strategic human resource planning and that will make you a stronger company for years to come.

How to start

The best way to begin the process is to make apprenticeship training a standard discussion point when hiring staff in the spring. It should be a standard part of the interview and employment offer. Inform new hires that part of your company’s training program is a partnership with the industry’s apprenticeship program. Employees will begin accepting the fact that part of their hiring is the expectation that they will enrol into the horticultural apprenticeship program for the next January. Make this training plan a major component of your human resources development program.

Anyone with a grade 12 Ontario High School Diploma (OSSD), working in the industry, and who has a $40 registration fee for MTCU can enrol immediately. Your employer sponsors you as you train under their guidance. The winter training only requires you to register at the college of your choice. Bingo, it’s that simple, you are registered.

But yet, it must be a big secret, as very few employees take part in this training. We annually graduate fewer than 200 apprentices in an industry that has almost 100,000 employees.

Program undervalued

Maybe it’s because few people understand the apprenticeship program and its value. Each year we write about it, speak at Chapter meetings and yet very few seem to get the message, as each year Ontario colleges agonize over low registration and struggle with enrolments. The reverse should happen, with industry employees lined up waiting to take this great education and training program. In talking to students currently in the program, they cannot understand why this program is not loaded every year with registrations.

Here is why students make this claim. The program duration is a short 12 weeks, starting in January and taught in the off-season (two 12 week terms to Mar.). The courses are completed in time to start employment in the spring. Seasonally laid-off employees can receive Employment Insurance (EI) benefits. It is the only program I know of that will pay EI benefits and still allow you to study. MTCU pays the college about $4,000 each term to cover the employee’s tuition. The employee cost is $600 per term.

There may be a transportation allowance for those who must travel a distance from the teaching facility. Because the horticultural trade is Red Seal, there is $4,000 in cash gifts available to the employee who completes the three stages of the two-term training program. The employer also gets $1,000 from the province when the employee completes the program. If the employer pays the $600 cost, then the employee cost is zero. Employees get a well-rounded education in horticultural subjects, in addition to value added life skills such as first aid and CPR, safety management, better communication skills, increased calculation and mathematical skills, team building and in the key elements of professionalism.

Fours years ago the employee cost for each term was zero. Now, MTCU assesses a $600 per term cost. Who knows what it might be in five years time?

There are absolutely no negatives and only positives in apprenticeship training. Why then is our industry so reluctant to have their employees take the program? Why do we not have waiting lists and line-ups for winter training? We are leaving government money on the table that should go to this industry.

It’s time for the industry employers to think about education and training and understand the tremendous impact that apprenticeship training can make to their bottom line at no additional cost.