Apprenticeship students ‘stuck with no straight answers’ on faculty strike’s impact

With courses just eight-weeks long apprenticeship students are left wondering what will happen to their education as the faculty strike continues with no end in sight

Shane Manganaro was six weeks into an eight-week program when classes were suspended by the strike. While other students can stretch out the semester, the intense eight to 10-week training blocks for trades apprenticeships mean that some trades students are already within a week of the planned end to their program.

Like all trades apprentices, Manganaro is in a complex program governed by the not only the colleges, but also the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, with a special code to collect employment insurance (EI) from Employment and Social Development Canada.

Apprentices also often have employers they usually work for, must be registered with the college of trades, and unionized apprentices also need to deal with their union. It’s a specialized situation and there’s not a lot of guidance for apprenticeship students.

“I feel like I’m stuck with no straight answers,” said Manganaro, a registered electrician apprentice. “Nobody is telling me what to do or even who to contact to get the answers.”

George Brown College referred students to an FAQ on their website that stated the apprenticeship classes were cancelled and that a decisions has not been yet made about future apprenticeship intakes.

In the absence of guidance from the colleges, trades apprentices told The Dialog they have been resorting to calling around to various ministries, their union, employment insurance, and also other apprentices to figure out what to do.

Employment and Social Development Canada, which pays EI to apprentices attending school under a special code, did provide The Dialog with specific answers. The specific text of their email to The Dialog can be read here. They said trades students can continue to collect EI for up to three weeks during the strike and should file reports normally and do not need to change their code.

After three weeks Employment and Social Development Canada will revisit this decisions and will issue guidance to apprentices. Students who become ill or otherwise unable to work are expected to contact EI to change their status.

Jenny Zhu is a millwright apprentice who was supposed to be released from work and start in the next course. Her second-level millwright course is very specialized and only runs once a year, so if she misses this intake and it’s not rescheduled promptly she maybe fall behind in her apprenticeship.

Her employer told her she can’t become a member of the millwrights union until she finishes her intermediate course so possible wage increases and access to benefits are also on hold.

Because the apprentice in-school programs are so short, their faculty have been even more affected by contract insecurity than other staff. While other part-time college teachers have to apply for their jobs every semester, partial-load college faculty have to re-apply for their jobs every 8 to 10 weeks, according to Jacques Senechal, a full-time faculty member on strike at George Brown College.

“Most definitely it is a struggle for faculty in that position,” said Senechal, who is a licensed electrician. “Financially it’s a struggle.”

The College Student Alliance said that they too lack detailed information on the situation of apprentices.

“Our position is just to urge both sides to get back to the bargaining table and get to a deal so that nothing is lost. ” said Abdullah Mushtaq, the CSA’s director of advocacy. “The only way we’ll know if they are affected is once we cross that bridge.”

Some unions such as the IBEW 353 (electrician union) are encouraging their apprentices to go back to work for the duration of the strike. Some apprentices The Dialog spoke to are worried that going back for a few weeks and then leaving to finish their program will cause problems for them at work.

As for Manganaro, when The Dialog called him back he said that he would rather wait for the strike to be resolved but “my boss found out about the strike and called me, and he told me to get back to work on Monday.”

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Apprenticeship students ‘stuck with no straight answers’ on faculty strike’s impact