Navigating Success: College Pathways to Apprenticeship Opportunities

The fast track to a skilled trades career

In Ontario, college programs are designed to support all individuals. And with a limited number of apprenticeship opportunities out there, more and more colleges are focused on crafting programs that can help individuals start their skilled trades career.

College Programs with In-Class Exemptions

As noted in our section on how apprenticeships work in Ontario, typically apprentices must complete two or three levels of in-school training to acquire their Certificate of Qualification. This usually means apprentices must pause their workplace training to enter the classroom.

However, some college certificate and diploma programs in the skilled trades provide apprentices with the opportunity to receive automatic exemption from these in-class training requirements – enabling them to continue working and learning their trade from an employer. (For an employer, this means they don’t have to find a replacement for their apprentice while they complete their in-class training – a factor that may help the apprentice secure employment with that employer in the first place.)

For example, at Fleming College graduates of the Heavy Equipment Techniques program are eligible for exemption from the in-school training portion for their respective trade. To apply for that exemption, graduates must take their Fleming College transcript and course outlines to their local Ministry of Colleges and Universities (MCU) office.

But Fleming isn’t the only college that offers certain exemptions to in-class training. Here are just a few other programs that offer these kinds of exemptions:

All current and prospective apprentices should discuss their eligibility for exemptions with their college and employer, as well as their local MCU office.

A trades student in an industrial classroom, using a drill press on a piece of metal

Image Source: Fanshawe College

Strongly consider registering for a college program with a co-op opportunity.

Most Ontario colleges offer a Carpentry and Renovation Technician program and many include the optional co-op. In this program, which typically requires two years to complete, you'll have the opportunity to prepare for a career in the residential and commercial construction sectors. In many cases, the first year focuses on helping you develop the skills required to contribute to building new structures. In the second year, you'll learn about renovating existing structures through renovation projects.

A Carpentry and Renovation Technician program can prepare you to become a:

  • Carpentry apprentice
  • Residential and commercial construction specialist
  • Custom home builder
  • Roofing specialist
  • Drywall installer
  • Retail building centre manager

And with the ongoing boom in both residential and commercial construction right now, you'll have lots of choices when it comes to selecting an employer and starting a career in this field - apprenticeship or not.

Apprenticeship Training at an Ontario College

Let’s get this out of the way: Only about 10-15% of an apprenticeship takes place on a college campus. That means most apprenticeships unfold in the workplace, from the construction site to the factory floor.

Should you be fortunate enough to secure an apprenticeship, it starts when you enter a binding contract with an employer who’s willing to sponsor you. The process is part of an agreement signed by you, your employer, and the Government of Ontario (and specifically the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development).

But Ontario colleges play an integral role in helping many of today’s apprentices gather the skills required to become skilled tradespeople. That’s because not everything you need to know about your trade can be learned in the workplace – some of it comes through instruction from industry professionals.

What You'll Learn

In a college classroom where the program focuses on the skilled trades, you’ll learn:

Develop an understanding of workplace standards – including an in-depth understand of what’s appropriate for your role and work environment – within your trade and industry, giving you the insights required to grow your career in the future.

Build an in-depth knowledge of the systems applicable to your trade and industry; for example, an automotive service technician (ATS) apprentice will learn about electrical, emissions, drivetrain, suspension, and fuel systems.

Learn vital regulations, such as the Canadian Electric Code, that are designed to ensure each trade’s products and services – like newly constructed homes and vehicles – are safe for consumers. In an Ontario college program, you’ll learn those critical regulations inside-out, ensuring you and your customers remain safe.

Studying theory might sound more like university than college, but it’s critical for every skilled trades professional to understand the ideas that apply to their specific trade. For example, every electrician must develop an understanding of electrical theory, which involves learning how electricity works – and by extension, how you can stay safe on the job.

College Programs with Co-op Opportunities

If you want to know what it’s like to work in your chosen field and trade, strongly consider registering for a college program with a co-op opportunity. In these programs, if you meet the minimum grade requirement upon completing the first stage of your program (i.e., ‘Level 1’), you may qualify for a work placement with a local employer.

Not only will a co-op give you an impression of a trade and industry, it may help you secure an apprenticeship or full-time employment down the road. And, in most cases, it will provide you with a paycheque while you hold the co-op, helping you better manage the financial costs of post-secondary education.

It’s important to keep in mind that the number of co-op spots available through your program may vary depending on labour market conditions (in other words, if local employers have the capacity to bring in co-op students). You’ll also want to ensure your grades remain high enough (ideally, about 80%) and that you haven’t dropped or failed any courses. Additionally, international students will need to secure a work permit to take on a co-op.

The good news: Every college has advisors – typically available through the college’s Co-operative Education department – that can help you understand the requirements, find a co-op opportunity, ensure you have the required credentials and paperwork, and then apply.