Rock to Road

Features Education
Investing in skilled trades: Free training available in Northern Ontario

Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is investing more than $1 million in two free job training programs

October 15, 2021  By James Careless

Photo: Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development

In a bid to boost the number of tradespeople in Northern Ontario and provide career opportunities to remote First Nations/Indigenous communities in this region, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development is investing more than $1 million in two free job training programs. 

In partnership with Thunder Bay’s NORCAT industrial education centre at a cost of $582,000, the first program will teach 20 students how to operate machinery for building roads, harvesting forests and moving minerals. 

The second program will provide $467,500 to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 1687 (IBEW 1687) to fund a virtual training centre for 625 electrical workers in this region. Again, both programs are free to those who enroll in them.

“Our main focus is to recruit Indigenous peoples to fill these meaningful jobs in forestry and construction,” said Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development, in an exclusive interview with Rock to Road.


“These jobs include pensions and benefits, and I believe we need more workers with pensions and benefits in Ontario. So we’re working in our partnership with NORCAT and the IBEW to recruit Indigenous peoples into these mining forestry and construction jobs.”

According to the provincial government, the average hourly wage for an industrial electrician in Ontario was $35.47 in 2020. Meanwhile, the average hourly wage for a heavy equipment operator (excluding crane operators) was $31.35.

Offsetting lost workers

By offering these training programs for free, the provincial government is attempting to address a serious shortfall in the skilled trades. Baby boomers are retiring without sufficient new people coming into the trades to replace them. Ontario’s economy is suffering as a result.

“We know there’s a huge shortage,” said McNaughton. “Today across Northern Ontario, more than 2,600 skilled trades jobs are going unfilled.” According to his Ministry, there were 13,380 job vacancies in the construction sector across the province in the first quarter of 2021, up from 11,075 in the first quarter of 2020. “Over the next 10 years, we’re going to need more than a hundred thousand workers in construction alone,” he said.

These shortages explain why the Ontario government has allocated $115 million to its Skills Development Fund (SDF), specifically to enhance the hiring, training and retraining of workers and apprentices during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The $1 million-plus for the two Northern Ontario programs, which was announced by McNaughton in Sudbury on August 13, 2021, is part of that funding initiative.

How it will work

Under the NORCAT machine operator program, 20 eligible students will receive free in-class and hands-on training from Sept. 13 to Dec. 3, 2021 at NORCAT’s forest and mining operations in Thunder Bay. 

“We are working to make our training programs easier for people,” said McNaughton. “So, the major costs that we’re covering for participants include training, transportation, and accommodation.” Interested students can apply by calling NORCAT’s Thunder Bay office at 855-966-7228, ext. 324

“We are excited to partner with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development to address the skilled labour shortage and the need to engage and provide training to build competence and confidence in our next generation of workers in Ontario’s mining, forestry, and construction industries,” said Don Duval, CEO of NORCAT.

“Collectively, these industries play an integral role in driving our province’s economic prosperity and our training programs, funded in part by the Skills Development Fund, will enable us to provide hands-on experiential training and prepare workers for meaningful, safe, and sustainable careers.”

The IBEW 1687 program is all about providing useful electrical training to 625 online students at First Nations/Indigenous communities across Northern Ontario. The funding will pay for audio visual equipment plus the development of an online curriculum. 

Once in place, the IBEW 1687 program will deliver classes in safety and equipment training, leadership development and business skills to help students upgrade themselves in careers such as electrical apprentices/journeypersons, network cabling specialists, and powerline technicians. 

Online classes begin Nov. 1

The online classes will be live-streamed for students with access to the web, and video-recorded and distributed to workers lacking high-speed internet.

Classes start on Nov. 1, 2021. Interested students can apply by contacting Chase Beaudoin at 249-878-0227 or 

“The IBEW has always been dedicated to providing the best on-the-job training for electricians in the industrial, commercial, residential, and utility sectors of Northern Ontario,” said Travis Merrett, IBEW 1687 business manager and financial secretary.

“Thanks to the SDF opportunity, we will now be able to provide at-home and on-the-job upgrade training for all our members through our state-of-the-art virtual training centre, including many First Nations communities, regardless of where they reside.”

The $1 million-plus being spent in Northern Ontario for these two programs, as part of the $115 million invested in the SDF, indicate that the provincial government is taking the trades shortage seriously.

Small wonder: “When I toured Northern Ontario communities recently, we heard at every single stop that small businesses were facing labour shortages, whether that’s in construction, mining and forestry,” said McNaughton. “Across Ontario today, 250,000 jobs are going unfilled. That’s why I’m laser-focussed at ensuring that we train people for these great jobs that exist and that are actually in demand.”

“Starting in September across schools in Northern Ontario and right across the province, we’re going to be sending in recruiters to compete head-on with universities, to recruit young people into the trades,” he added.

“We need to really work to end the stigma around the trades; tell young people, their parents and educators about the great careers that are going unfilled, and that in many cases pay six figures, and have pensions and benefits. These are paycheques waiting to be collected.”

James Careless is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Rock to Road.

This article appears in the September/October 2021 issue of Rock to Road. Read the digital edition.

Print this page


Stories continue below