Vocational education is offered at both the secondary and post-secondary levels in Canada. At the secondary level, courses are offered either alongside academic courses in a comprehensive school or, occasionally, in separate vocational schools, depending on the province. Ontario has just begun a comprehensive program in secondary schools called the “Specialist High Skills Majors,” which are programs of eight to ten classes in eighteen industry or trade fields, including aviation, energy, transportation, hospitality and tourism and health and wellness. As of the 2011-2012 school year, these majors are offered by every school board across the province. Upon graduation from secondary school with a focus in a high skills major, students receive both a high school diploma and industry certification. These programs have been very popular; the Ontario Ministry of Education credits them with raising the secondary school graduation rate from 68% in 2003-2004 to 82% in 2012-2013. The number of students participating in these programs has also increased every year.
Graduates of secondary vocational programs may then enter the workforce, a post-secondary program to expand and enhance their skills, or an apprenticeship in their occupational area or trade. Although apprenticeship programs were initially conceived for adults, increasingly, students are choosing apprenticeships following vocational secondary school. The Canadian government promotes apprenticeships through the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and Apprenticeship Completion Grant, both of which are small grants ($1000-$2000) available to registered apprentices. In order to encourage people in industry to take on apprentices, the government also offers a tax credit equal to 10% of the wages paid to apprentices.
Vocational education and training is regulated by the Red Seal program, an interprovincial standards framework. Programs participating in the Red Seal program are recognized as having met industry’s standards of excellence; students who have completed formal education or apprenticeships in a skilled trade can earn a Red Seal endorsement after completing a national Red Seal examination in their field and their credentials are portable across Canada. The Red Seal provides standards for 52 occupations, and also maintains the Ellis Chart, a comparative guide to training programs across Canada.
In addition to the Red Seal program, Canada also offers a number of other ways for adults to improve their skills and education. Improving lifelong learning opportunities has been a focal point of the goals of the Council of Education Ministers, Canada (CMEC) since the Victoria Declaration in 1999. The 2003 International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey indicated that nearly half of Canada’s adult population (defined as individuals aged 16 to 65 not in full-time education) were enrolled in some form of adult education. Adult education is available to Canadians in many forms: colleges often offer training programs, as do government departments; adult learning centers exist in many provinces; and a number of non-profits have emerged in communities, often focusing their resources on offering additional training for underserved populations such as immigrants, rural workers, the unemployed and people with low literacy and numeracy skills. Many employers also support the pursuit of advanced qualifications; in the same survey, 53% of adults involved in adult education reported that they were supported by their workplace.
Ontario has recently signaled that it will prioritize improving its vocational education system. In August 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities announced that all 45 publicly assisted colleges and universities signed agreements to ensure that their programs are linked to the economic needs of local and global employers and that the programs are coordinated across the province. It also gives Ontario the capacity to continuously improve its offerings, by periodically surveying programs to ensure that the range of economic needs in the province are met. A draft framework proposes metrics in eight areas to assess universities’ strengths and progress, including student employment statistics, private sector partnerships, and student satisfaction.