Skip to content
February 29, 2024

Ratio Realities: The Impact of Ratio Changes on Manitoba and its Apprentices

By Darryl Harrison, WCA Director, Stakeholder Engagement and Advocacy

The Manitoba Apprenticeship Board has undergone some recent changes, including the removal of several Board members (myself included), replaced with five new appointees, four of which are from organizations that are vocal critics of the current 2:1 apprenticeship ratio. On Friday (Feb. 23) the Winnipeg Free Press published an op-ed from the new Chair of the Apprenticeship Manitoba Board. She raised some important points regarding training and education in the construction industry that are worth discussing.

The op-ed pointed out something that everyone in the industry can get behind – the low completion rates of apprenticeships in Manitoba. The completion rate for apprenticeships across Canada is only about 50%, and Manitoba is no different. Apprenticeship Manitoba and the construction industry will be well-served if they can improve that rate. The reasons nearly half of all apprentices do not complete their 4-year apprenticeships are as varied as the reasons to choose apprenticeship. There is no easy solution, but efforts in this area are worthwhile.

It is disappointing the author considers the changes over the past four years to be ‘the deliberate dismantling of the apprenticeship program’, referring specifically to a change in ratio requirements and a focus on micro-credentials. Both topics are worthy of discussion, but for now let’s take a look at the ratio requirement. The current supervision ratio is 2:1, meaning that on any given construction project a single journeyperson can supervise up to two apprentices. This change has been very well received by the vast majority of the industry and is good for Manitoba’s apprenticeship system. 

Prior to the change in 2021, the supervision requirement was 1:1. I’m not sure how many other training systems have a 1:1 ratio, but it’s not many. Especially considering apprentices just left school where there are 15-25 people in class!

A 2:1 ratio is not out of line with other jurisdictions. For example, Alberta has a 2:1 ratio and B.C. doesn’t have a limit at all, except for Electrical and Mechanical trades which are 2:1. Journeypersons are trained and experienced while apprentices are learning and do not offer the same level of productivity. Balancing the appropriate mix of journeypersons and apprentices is an important part of project management. Recently we have seen the higher ratio has led to some projects having more apprentices, but not a dramatic shift where there is twice as many apprentices on every job as journeypersons. It merely nudges up the apprenticeship numbers to allow for more opportunities for young people.

An extremely important part of the apprenticeship system is clearly the on-the-job training. And the way apprentices will get the most out of that experience is by having willing, helpful and attentive journeypersons to provide that training. While there are many journeypersons that are excellent at what they do, some really don’t want to or are not suited to mentor an apprentice.

It is much better to have an enthusiastic journeyperson oversee two apprentices than an unwilling journeyperson oversee one apprentice. Think about your own career. Have you had better experiences working with a manager who was happy to be there, or one who acted like you were a burden or inconvenience?

We also can’t ignore the power dynamic that exists between an apprentice and their journeyperson. This relationship is extremely important and can be the deciding factor in the success of an apprenticeship. If there is a case where an unwilling journeyperson is forced to oversee an apprentice, the apprentice will not be in the position to question the direction or approach. If there are two apprentices, the power dynamic changes and there will be more influence placed on the apprentices’ point of view in a given situation. Arguably, two apprentices per journeyperson creates a safer and more inclusive environment.

A regression in ratios will have a particularly negative impact on rural and northern parts of the province. There are fewer journeypersons in these parts of the province, making it difficult for prospective apprentices to find the opportunity to work under a journeyperson. Further constricting this with a ratio change hurts those that live outside Winnipeg even more.

I’ve outlined some reasons why the proposed ratio change will negatively harm apprentices, but I haven’t even begun to raise the issue of construction cost competitiveness. Compulsory trades require either a journeyperson or apprentice do all the work that is part of the trade (‘helpers’ are not allowed). Reducing the ratio will mean that more journeypersons will have to be hired in situations where an apprentice could have competently completed the task and be offered a training opportunity. This will mean more compulsory trade journeypersons on site which will increase labour costs on all construction projects in Manitoba.

Considering the pre-election commitment by Premier Kinew to restrict the number of new apprentices by reducing the ratio to 1:1 and removing moderate Apprenticeship Board members and replacing them with advocates of a ratio reduction, it seems clear there will be an effort to force this change onto the industry.

The result of these changes will be immediate – current apprentices will lose their jobs, there will be fewer apprentices that enter the system, less mutual support for apprentices on job sites and more expensive construction projects for Manitoba – including the Provincial government’s own healthcare projects.

Of course, fewer apprentices today will mean fewer journeypersons tomorrow. I can’t think of a single good reason why reducing the flow of apprentices into the skilled trade system is good for the industry or for our province.

I strongly urge the Apprenticeship Board to reject a reduction in apprenticeship ratios.

If you have any questions about WCA’s advocacy efforts, or want to bring an industry issue to our attention, please reach out to