College vs. Traditional Apprenticeship Pathways

There are a couple of options for pursuing an apprenticeship in Ontario.

You could use our program search tool to find a program at a college. There, you can develop the skills that will prepare you for an apprenticeship and skilled trades career.

Or you could focus on getting an apprenticeship without prior training.

What’s the best approach for you?

It’s a complicated question and the answer depends a lot on your unique personal and professional situation.

Apprenticeship Pathways


  • Age 15? Earn co-op education credits through the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.
  • Take secondary school courses that match your career goals.

Traditional Route

  • Education: Have the required minimum for your trade.
  • You're responsible for finding a 'sponsor' (i.e., employer) who is willing to hire you.
  • Age 16-17? Download, fill out, and mail the paper application to your local Employment Ontario Apprenticeship Office.
  • Age 18 or older? Apply for an apprenticeship using the Skilled Trades Ontario Portal.
  • Once your application is approved, sign a training agreement between you, your sponsor, and the Ontario Government.

College Route

  • Education: Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) or equivalent.
  • Find, apply to, and complete your college program, learning foundational knowledge and skills along the way.
  • Find an employer willing to sign you on as an apprentice (colleges may be able to help with these connections).


  • Traditional Route
    • During your apprenticeship, you'll need to attend and complete many hours of classroom learning away from your sponsor/employer. The total time varies from trade to trade.

  • College Route
    • In most cases, the college route requires no extra classroom time because you've already completed it. This makes you an enticing prospect as an apprentice because you'll spend most of your time on the job with your sponsor/employer.

Advantages of a College Program in the Skilled Trades

As we’ve explored on other parts of this site – like our Why College? section – the advantages of going to college include:

  • You can take trades programs that let you skip the in-class training portion of a future apprenticeship, saving you time and making you more appealing to employers.
  • You will always have the diploma, degree, or certificate that you get with a college program, opening doors for your career in the future.
  • You may be able to access co-op opportunities through employers in your college’s area.

Beyond that, college trades facilities and experienced professors can help you get a feel for your future career and work environment. If one trade is not for you, then you can leverage your college support system to find another that’s a better fit.

But let’s go further in comparing college and traditional apprenticeship pathways to a skilled trades career. Both routes have their benefits and understanding their differences can help you make an informed decision.

College Pathways


Colleges offer a wide range of degree, diploma, and certificate programs in trades like carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, and automotive repair.
Some college programs – like those listed on this site – provide automatic exemptions from the in-class training requirements for specific trades. Graduates can continue working while learning their trade from an employer.
Many college programs include co-op placements, allowing students to gain practical experience while studying. Co-op terms provide valuable insights into the industry and enhance employability.
To draw more people into the skilled trades and help address a serious labor shortage, many colleges are building state-of-the-art trades facilities designed to provide hands-on instruction in a vast array of relevant programs.


Only about 10-15% of apprenticeship training occurs on college campuses. Most of the learning happens in the workplace.
Apprenticeships begin with a binding contract between the apprentice, the employer, and the Government of Ontario. The employer sponsors the apprentice throughout the process. College programs will not sign you up for an apprenticeship, though they can help prepare you for one.
Colleges play an integral role in equipping apprentices with the necessary skills to become proficient tradespeople.

Traditional Apprenticeship Pathways


Traditional apprenticeships primarily take place in the workplace – like a construction site or a factory floor. Apprentices learn hands-on skills directly from experienced tradespeople.
Apprentices enter into formal agreements with employers and the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development. These agreements outline the terms of the apprenticeship.
Individuals who can enter straight into an apprenticeship can save time and start earning money sooner.


Even if you decide to go straight into an apprenticeship, chances are you’ll still need an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD).
In pursuing the traditional apprenticeship pathway, you won’t earn a college degree, diploma, or certificate that you can use to further your career. However, you will likely spend some time on a college campus taking the in-class training portion of your apprenticeship.
Apprentices without a college credential may need to spend many hours away from their workplace completing their apprenticeship’s required in-class training. This sets the traditional pathway apart from the college route, where graduates who take a college program with embedded apprenticeship curriculum can skip this step.
Let’s be clear – it isn’t easy to find an apprenticeship without workplace connections or experience in the field. This may make it very difficult to find an apprenticeship without first completing some prior training, such as through a college program.


Both pathways have their benefits, and the best choice for you depends on your individual preferences and circumstances. Aspiring tradespeople should explore their options, consider their learning style, and weigh the benefits of each route. Whether through college or traditional apprenticeships, a skilled trades career in Canada awaits those willing to put in the effort and dedication.