Center on International Education Benchmarking

Canada: Career and Technical Education

Overview | Learning Systems | Teacher and Principal Quality
Supporting Equity |  Career and Technical Education | Governance and Accountability

System Structure

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 a comprehensive program in secondary schools called the “Specialist High Skills Majors,” which are programs of eight to ten classes in 19 industry or trade fields, including aviation, energy, transportation, hospitality and tourism, and health and wellness. 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 percent in 2004 to 86 percent in 2017. The number of students participating in these programs has also increased every year. British Columbia offers a range of career and skills programs for 11th and 12th graders, including apprenticeship training, co-operative education, and career technical centers.

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 (CAN$1,000-$2,000, US$770-$1,500) available to registered apprentices. In order to encourage people in industry to take on apprentices, the government also offers a business tax credit equal to 10 percent of the wages paid to apprentices.

Vocational education and training is regulated by the Red Seal program, an interprovincial standards framework covering 56 occupations and overseen by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship. Programs participating in the Red Seal program are recognized as having met industry 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. These credentials are seen as an employment advantage, providing holders with employment, higher wages, and career advancement opportunities.

Current Reforms

In April 2017, the Ontario government announced that it would create 40,000 new work-related learning opportunities for both K-12 and postsecondary students, as well as recent graduates. The Career Kick-Start Strategy is funded by an investment of nearly CAN$190 million (US$146 million) over three years. While Ontario has one of the most highly educated and skilled workforces in the world, graduates often face challenges landing their first job is they lack work-related experience. Career Kick-Start will expand the successful Specialist High Skills Major Program, establish a new Career Ready Fund to help universities, colleges, and employers create career-oriented learning experiences, support additional internships, and provide free access to skill-focused online learning.

In British Columbia, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and the Ministries of Education and Advanced Education are working together to implement the BC’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, a comprehensive strategy to reengineer the education and skills training system. The goal is to make sure that British Columbians are “first in line” for the careers of tomorrow. Goals that would give young people “a head start to hands-on learning” include doubling the number of apprenticeship program seats, expanding dual credit options for secondary students, making it easier for Red Seal tradespersons to earn teaching certificates, and conducting a skills outreach strategy to ensure key stakeholders are aware of skills and training programs. The two other major goals aim to 1) align education and training options with jobs in demand, and 2) establish strong partnerships with industry and labor to delivery training and apprenticeships.

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