Demystifying Apprenticeships: Exploring Key Terms in the Skilled Trades

Explore the vocabulary of apprenticeships

Compulsory trades

All trades in Ontario are divided into these two categories. As the name suggests, there are more stringent restrictions on compulsory than non-compulsory trades.

Today, there are more than 20 compulsory trades, which are regulated by a government agency and require individuals to become licensed or certified prior to starting work in their field. This regulation exists to protect the public and ensure the work being done meets all safety standards.

The following are examples of compulsory trades:

  • Electrical work
  • Plumbing
  • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Alignment and Brakes Technician
  • Auto Body and Collision Repair
  • Hairstylist
  • Hoisting Engineer
  • Motorcycle Technician
  • Sheet Metal Worker
  • Sprinkler and Fire Protection Installer
  • Steamfitter
  • Transmission Technician
  • Truck and Coach Technician
  • Truck-Trailer Service Technician

In most cases, that licensing or certification starts with an apprenticeship program, followed by taking and passing a Certificate of Qualification exam. It’s important to note that skilled tradespeople in compulsory trades must renew their certification each year.

Non-Compulsory trades

In Ontario, there are more than 120 non-compulsory trades. These trades do not require you to secure a license or certification to work. In most cases, an apprenticeship program is also not required – though it can certainly help in training and finding work.

That said, there are some non-compulsory trades that have a certificate of qualification exam; passing this exam and gaining certification can help a new tradesperson demonstrate their competency and secure work.

Apprenticeships provide practical, hands-on experience to a recognized standard and 60 non-compulsory trades have a Certificates of Qualification exam.

The following are examples of non-compulsory trades:

  • Aboriginal Child Development Practitioner
  • Arborist
  • Automotive Painter
  • Baker-Patissier
  • Brick and Stone Mason
  • Facilities Mechanic
  • Metal Fabricator
  • Railway Car Technician
  • Tool and Die Maker
  • Tractor-Trailer Commercial Driver
  • Turf Equipment Technician

Certificate of Qualification

Each province in Canada has a group that oversees the skilled trades and issues a certificate of qualification showing that an individual can safely and competently perform work in their chosen field.

In Ontario, the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD) oversees apprenticeship programs in Ontario. That means you’ll be consulting the Ministry when you start an apprenticeship, as well as when you complete that apprenticeship and prepare for certifying exams that, once passed, will result in you receiving a Certificate of Qualification.

When you do finish your apprenticeship, you’ll automatically receive a 12-month Provisional Certificate of Qualification that enables you to work in your chosen trade for up to a year while you prepare for the aforementioned certifying exam.

Certifying Exam

You can schedule your certifying exam by visiting Skilled Trades Ontario, an agency of the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development that’s responsible for apprenticeship and skilled trades certification in Ontario.

Before you schedule your certifying exam, you’ll want to ensure that you’re eligible to write it. To be eligible, you’ll need to have completed an Ontario apprenticeship program and received a Certificate of Apprenticeship.

Alternatively, if you have experience in your field – but have never completed an apprenticeship – you can take a Trade Equivalency Assessment that tests your competency in a trade’s most relevant skills, as defined by the trade’s established training standard.

Both the certifying exam and Trade Equivalency Assessment require you to pay a fee, which you can do by contacting Skilled Trades Ontario.

Block Release

This refers to when an apprentice is released from their workplace duties to focus on in-class training for a set period of time (typically about eight weeks). Block release is used to help apprentices complete each of the two or three levels of their in-class training.

Day Release

This refers to when an apprentice is released from their workplace duties to focus on in-class training for one day each week.


In the world of apprenticeship training and skilled trades programs at Ontario colleges, an exemption involves allowing an individual who has already completed a relevant college program to skip the in-class training portion of their following apprenticeship.


A skilled trades professional who has successfully completed their apprenticeship and the Certificate of Qualification, demonstrating their competency in skills relevant to their chosen trade.

Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development of Ontario (MLITSD)

A ministry of the Government of Ontario, the MLITSD has many responsibilities, including supporting employers and workers interested in hiring and training for skilled trades and apprenticeship careers. To successfully register your apprenticeship, you and your employer (or sponsor) must complete an Application for Apprenticeship Training form provided by the MLITSD. To learn more about this process, contact an Employment Ontario apprenticeship office in your region.

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program is dedicated to helping individuals access skilled trades careers through early apprenticeship opportunities. It does this by connecting prospective tradespeople with employers and apprenticeships, as well as by helping prospective tradespeople understand how they can acquire their Certificate of Qualification and become a registered journeyperson.

OYAP also supports employers by helping them find and train skilled tradespeople for their workplace.

Red Seal Program

The Red Seal Program is designed to help skilled trades professionals secure skilled trades qualifications at a national level. That means a journeyperson who receives a Red Seal endorsement on their Certificate of Qualification can practice their trade in any province or territory within Canada.