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Literature Review: Labour Market Outcomes of Canadian Apprenticeship Programs

In collaboration with Education Policy Research Initiative

LMI Insight Report no. 38

January 2021

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Table of Contents

Key Findings

  • The decision to further one’s education and training—whether through formal post-secondary education, apprenticeship training or skills upgrading—is an important one.
  • Past research by the Labour Market Information Council and the Education Policy Research Initiative examined the earnings trajectories of post-secondary graduates. To complement this work, we have embarked on a new joint research project to shed light on the earnings of Red Seal apprentices.
  • A review of literature in this domain reveals that when it comes to labour market outcomes, there is less information available about trade certificate holders than about post-secondary graduates. The research in this area is underdeveloped. A few additional findings emerged from our literature review:
    • Women represent a small share of trade certificate holders and tend to go into trades where earnings are lower.
    • Earnings tend to vary from year to year, and the relative earnings levels across trades vary from cohort to cohort, depending on labour market conditions.
    • The most recent Statistics Canada study on the earnings of trade certificate holders reveals that the highest median earnings are in the male-dominated, heavy duty trades (including jobs like equipment technician, steamfitter/pipefitter and industrial electrician), while the lowest median earnings are in the female-dominated trades (such as hairstylist and educational assistant) followed by the more gender-balanced trade of cook.
    • In the first few years after receiving their certifications, journeypersons in most trades earn more than bachelor’s degree graduates, on average.



In January 2019, the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) and the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI) published a joint report entitled How Much Do They Make? Focusing on the post-graduation earnings of Canadian post-secondary education (PSE) graduates, that report was based on an analysis carried out using the Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP), whose core components are three longitudinal databases: the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS), the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS) and the T1 Family File (see Box 1).

Box 1. ELMLP Core Components
Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS)
Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS)
T1 Family File (T1FF)
PSIS consists of PSE students’ administrative records (excluding those of apprentices) collected annually from all publicly funded colleges and universities in Canada. It contains information on students and their PSE programs.
RAIS consists of administrative data on registered apprentices and trade qualifiers for designated trades compiled from a variety of sources by the provinces’ and territories’ apprenticeship authorities. RAIS collects information on apprentice demographics and trade programs.
The T1FF data on the ELMLP are taken from personal income tax returns transferred to Statistics Canada by the Canada Revenue Agency. This includes personal information on tax filers present in PSIS and RAIS and their income along with other tax-based information.

That research has now been extended to trade certificate holders and represents a companion to the earlier work on PSE graduates. The report is planned for release in early 2021, but as a precursor, this short literature review examines past work on the labour market outcomes of trade certificate holders, also referred to as certified tradespeople or journeypersons. (See the glossary at the end of this review for definitions of terms used.)

While a substantial body of research on PSE graduates’ labour market outcomes has been developed since the 1980s, much less has been done on the trades, largely because the available data have been more limited (Boothby and Drews, 2010; Campbell, 2010; Dostie, 2010).

The National Apprenticeship Survey

Statistics Canada’s introduction of the National Apprenticeship Survey (NAS) in 1993 and provincial apprenticeship surveys in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador were among the first steps to address the lack of information on apprenticeships (Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2008). The NAS targets all individuals who completed or discontinued their apprenticeship training during a certain reference period (approximately 30,000 people in the last two iteration of the survey). The survey asks respondents for their before-tax hourly rate of pay after leaving their apprenticeship programs, and report on their age, sex, education level, Indigenous or immigration status, marital status, presence of children and more (Statistics Canada, 2017).

Much of the early work with the NAS focuses on the demographic characteristics of apprentices and on comparisons between those who complete their programs and those who do not. Campbell (2010) and Dostie (2010) use the 2007 NAS to examine two outcomes of Canadian apprenticeship programs—successful completion and time to completion—and find that older, disabled and minority or Indigenous apprentices are less likely to complete their programs on time.

Using the same iteration of the NAS, Ménard et al. (2008) find that the median hourly wage of those who complete apprenticeship programs are $27, while the median hourly wage of those who leave their programs before completion are $20 per hour.

Laryea & Medu (2010) and Ahmed (2010) also produced reports as part of a series for the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship using the 2007 NAS. The former focus on apprenticeship participation, while the latter focus on labour market outcomes. According to Laryea & Medu (2010), women tend to be drawn to a small number of trade groups (e.g. hairstyling/esthetics and food services) that include the lowest-paying trades.

Ahmed (2010) quantifies the gender gap among certified tradespeople, determining that overall (i.e. across all trades), women earn an average of $29,000 less than men, of which $15,000 could be attributed to gender after controlling for other factors in the NAS. The report also finds welders have the highest earnings, followed by heavy equipment operators, and that the earnings of hairstylist/esthetician and food services worker trade groups are lower than those of all others.

Laporte and Mueller (2012) also make use of the 2007 NAS to examine the hourly wages of those who complete versus discontinue (those who left) apprenticeship programs, as well as those who do and do not obtain actual trade certification within each group. They find that certified completers have the highest average hourly wages, at $28.07, followed by certified discontinuers at $27.25, non-certified completers at $23.92 and finally non-certified discontinuers at $23.30 (see glossary). These patterns also hold after controlling for other factors using a multivariate regression modelling framework.

Examining tradespeople’s earnings using the 2006 Census and 2007 NAS, Boothby and Drewes (2010) find that the weekly earnings premiums of male apprenticeship completers over those who completed only high school range from 9% to 14%. The premiums over high school graduates are lower for women who complete apprenticeships, but still positive.

In 2015, an updated NAS cycle was launched with a focus on completers and discontinuers, excluding long-term continuers—those who take more than one and a half times the expected duration of their program—from the sample. As a result of that restriction, the populations of the 2007 and 2015 NAS are not comparable (Frank and Jovic, 2017). Examining the 2015 cycle, Frank and Jovic (2017) also find that completing apprenticeship programs have higher earnings than those who leave their programs. Completers have average hourly wages of $33.30 ($69,512 annually), while discontinuers earn $27.88 hourly ($59,782 annually).

Provincial Surveys

The 2016 British Columbia Apprenticeship Survey is a telephone and online survey conducted from January to May 2016. All individuals who completed their apprenticeship training at a BC post-secondary institution between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015 were invited to participate. The survey had a 54% response rate. A report based on the survey finds that, for example, journeypersons in the Machinery & Transportati­on Equipment Mechanics (except motor vehicle) group have the highest median hourly wage, at $38, followed by those in the Electrical Trades & Electrical Power Line & Telecommunica­tions Workers group, at $36, followed in turn by those in the Contractors & Supervisors, Industrial, Electrical & Construc­tion Trades & Related Workers group and the Machining, Metal Forming, Shaping & Erecti­ng Trades group, who earn $32 per hour. Chefs and Cooks reported the lowest median hourly wage, at $18 (BC Stats, 2017).

Similar apprenticeship surveys were carried out in Saskatchewan (Insightrix Research Inc., 2017) and Alberta (Advanis Inc., 2018). Research in both provinces address outcomes such as satisfaction, specific fields of employment and how they vary across demographic and program characteristics of apprenticeship completers (e.g. gender, age, program and teaching method)1. However, Advanis Inc. (2018) also includes some information on the earnings of certified journeypersons, finding that 20% report monthly earnings of $5,000, 26% report earnings of $5,000 to $6,999, 14% report earnings of $7,000 to $8,999 and 15% report earnings higher than $9,0002 . A comparison with four previous cycles of the biennial survey indicates that mean monthly income varies  from a low of $6,360 in 2007–08 to a peak of $7,749 in 2014–15 before dropping to $6,844 in 2016–17.

Both surveys indicate that the level of satisfaction with the on-the-job training component of apprenticeships is very high (around 90%), but satisfaction in the technical training component, albeit still high, varies between 80% and 90% (Insightrix Research Inc., 2017; Advanis Inc., 2018).

2 The remaining 26% of responders did not know or refused to answer.

Studies using apprenticeship administrative data linked to tax data

A common limitation of all studies discussed so far is their reliance on self-reported data, which can be inaccurate. Discussing the NAS, Boothby and Drewes (2010) state that “information on schooling and training credentials [is] self-reported and it would appear… that a significant number of individuals report themselves as having undertaken apprenticeable training in occupations which, in fact, are not apprenticeable” (p. 5). An alternative approach draws on administrative data collected by program providers and government agencies to circumvent this issue.

To examine the characteristics and labour market outcomes of women who enter male-dominated apprenticeships and vice-versa, Frank and Frenette (2019) used the 2015 NAS—containing information on apprentices who completed or left their programs from 2011 to 2013—linked to tax data (T1FF) from 2011 to 2014. A comparison of median hourly wages reported in the NAS finds women in male-dominated trades tend to have lower earnings than their male counterparts, a result that continues to hold even after controlling for age, completion status and level of education, although the differences become smaller. For those in female-dominated or evenly mixed trades, they find no significant difference in wages at the 25th and 50th percentiles. However, they find that women have lower wages than men at the 75th percentile of their respective distributions.

Using a combination of survey, administrative and tax data from the Labour Force Survey, the Census, RAIS and T1FF, Crocker et al. (2014) examine a variety of labour market outcomes of tradespeople. Using the 2006 Census, they compare the earnings of individuals in the top 10 largest trades by the highest level of education completed: high school diploma or less, a registered apprenticeship certificate or diploma, other trade certificates or diplomas, and college or university credentials. In all cases, those who completed apprenticeships had the highest median annual earnings, the highest being millwrights at over $65,000 and the lowest being hairstylists and barbers at over $15,000.

Crocker et al. (2014) also use linked RAIS-T1FF data to track earnings patterns over time. At the time of their report, the data in RAIS only contained an apprentice’s status as a completer, continuer (still enrolled), long-term continuer, discontinuer (no longer enrolled) or trade qualifier in 2004 and 2008. Earnings are tracked before, during and after training, and show that qualifiers—those who could demonstrate that they met the standard for certification in a trade based on prior experience and skills—tend to earn more than completers before their certification, but that after certification, completers earn more than qualifiers. Ultimately, both groups’ earnings are similar four and five years into the labour market.

A 2018 report used administrative data from Alberta’s Apprenticeship, Trade and Occupation Management System (ATOMS) database linked to tax data from T1FF to track journeypersons in Alberta from 2005 to 2013 and report their earnings from 2006 to 2014 (Alberta Advanced Education, 2018). Journeypersons were divided into completers and qualifiers. The report finds that qualifiers have higher median earnings than completers and that they tended to vary more widely from year to year.

Completers are further divided into six major trade categories: Architectural/Construction, Electrical, Mechanical, Metal, Vehicle and Related, and Other. Apprentices in the Mechanical category have the highest earnings one year after graduation, while those in Electrical have the highest median earnings after five years. A further breakdown by specific trades find that the trade with the highest median earnings can vary from year to year, with all trades experiencing increases and decreases in earnings over time. Nonetheless, the earnings of some trades are more volatile than those of others (Alberta Advanced Education, 2018).

In December 2018, Statistics Canada released national findings on the labour market outcomes of tradespeople using RAIS-T1FF data in the ELMLP. Across 18 selected apprenticeship programs, the median earnings of apprentices who received certificates in 2010 is $52,030 at the time of certification. The highest median earnings are in the male-dominated, heavy duty trades of equipment technician ($79,920), steamfitter/pipefitter ($78,030) and industrial electrician ($74,350), while the lowest median earnings are in the female-dominated trades of hairstylist ($21,130) and educational assistant ($21,950), followed by the more gender-balanced trade of cook ($30,090). Automotive service technicians have the lowest median income of the male-dominated trades, at $40,860. However, this was still greater than the highest median income female-dominated trade: child and youth worker, at $37,070 (a certified trade only in Ontario). Four years after program completion, the three highest-earning trades are heavy duty equipment technician ($107,220), steamfitter/pipefitter ($105,620) and industrial mechanic (millwright) ($99,320)—all predominantly male—while the highest-earning female-dominated trade is child and youth worker ($41,490) (Statistics Canada, 2018).

Statistics Canada (2020) compares the earnings of journeypersons from the top 10 most common Red Seal trades with those of bachelor’s degree graduates in various fields of study. Five years after receiving their certifications or graduating, journeypersons in most trades earn more than the average bachelor’s degree graduates. The exceptions were cooks and hairstylists, who earn less than bachelor’s degree holders in all fields of study.

Also using Statistics Canada’s RAIS-T1FF data, Prism Economics and Analysis produced a report for the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum presenting aggregate earnings for the top 10 Red Seal trades at year of completion and two years later. Earnings vary across cohorts (2008 to 2014): first-year median earnings vary from $57,200 (2010 cohort) to $61,100 (2014 cohort), and second-year earnings vary from $63,590 (2014 cohort) to $76,205 (2012 cohort) (Prism Economics and Analysis, 2019).


The ELMLP provides a new way forward for analyzing the labour market outcomes of trade certificate holders. Our forthcoming report (in early 2021) will leverage the ELMLP to provide strategically important labour market information about the earnings of journeypersons across a wide range of skilled trades stakeholders. The report explores the earnings of trade certificate holders from a variety of perspectives that should interest people making training decisions, institutions offering apprenticeship programs, policy makers, industry, researchers and the general public.

New tax-linked administrative data sources like the ELMLP complement surveys such as the NAS. Both are crucial to providing a fuller picture of certified tradespeople in Canada.

All results presented in the report, along with a more extended set of findings, will be made available through an interactive dashboard on the LMIC-EPRI project page.


This LMI Insight Report was prepared by Ross Finnie, Michael Dubois, and Masashi Miyairi from EPRI with feedback from LMIC. We thank Emily Arrowsmith (Canadian Apprenticeship Forum), Tiffany Ng, Samuel A. Laryea and Jason Gupta (Employment and Social Development Canada), and Graham Ziegler, Aimé Ntwari, Amanda Kopp and Austin Snow (Statistics Canada) for their constructive feedback.

For more information about this report or other ELMLP projects, please contact Behnoush Amery, LMIC senior economist, at, or Tony Bonen, LMIC’s director of research, data and analytics, at


A person who works in a trade, occupation or craft under an agreement or contract and is registered with the Apprenticeship Authority. The apprentice learns the knowledge, skills, tools and materials of the trade, occupation or craft through on-the-job training and technical instruction under the supervision of a certified journeyperson.
A structured system of supervised training leading to certification in a designated trade, occupation or craft. Apprentices gain experiential learning and develop skills through systematic programs of on-the-job training supplemented by technical instruction.
Certificate of Apprenticeship
A document issued to a person who has successfully completed a formalized apprenticeship training program.
Certificate of Qualification
A certificate issued to a candidate who has successfully completed an apprenticeship program or has met all the requirements of a trade and has attained the prescribed pass mark on the certification examination to qualify as a journeyperson in that trade.
An individual who has completed an apprenticeship program within a Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS) report year.
An individual who, at the end of a RAIS report year, is registered as an apprentice but has not completed the program.
An apprentice who terminates their involvement in an apprenticeship training program before completing it.
A formally certified, fully skilled worker whose combined work experience and training satisfy all the requirements demanded of those who practice in a designated trade.
Long-term continuer
An apprentice who, at the end of a RAIS reporting year, has been an apprentice for some designated period longer than the apprenticeship term. NAS 2007 defines the designated period as more than one and a half times the apprenticeship term. This study defines the designated period mainly as six or more years, since most apprenticeship terms are four years.
Red Seal Designated trade
A trade that has been designated by the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship for inclusion in the Interprovincial Standards Program. The training and certification are based on a national occupational standard, and provinces and territories are permitted to affix a Red Seal to the certificates of candidates who meet the standard.
An occupation for which a provincial or territorial apprenticeship program is available.
Trade qualifier
An individual who has amassed sufficient practical work experience to meet the established criteria to attempt the certification journey level (provincial or interprovincial) examination. The criteria require relevant on-the-job experience of at least one year more than the apprenticeship term.
Someone who practices a skilled trade and is not necessarily an apprentice or journeyperson.


Source: Crocker et al. (2014).


Advanis Inc. (2018, May 17). 2018 Survey of 2016/2017 Graduates of Apprenticeship Training: Comprehensive Report. Alberta Advanced Education.

Alberta Advanced Education. (2018). Labour Market Outcomes of Alberta’ Apprenticeship and Industry Training System. Government of Alberta.

BC Stats. (2017, September). BC Student Outcomes Report of Findings – Apprenticeship Training in British Columbia: What we can learn from the 2016 Apprenticeship Student Outcomes Survey. British Columbia Student Outcomes Research Forum.

Boothby, D., & Drewes, T. (2010, December). Returns to Apprenticeship in Canada. (Canadian Labour Market and Skills Research Network Working Paper No. 70). Canadian Labour Market and Skills Research Network.

Campbell, N. (2010). The determinants of low (and slow) completions in the Canadian apprenticeship system [Master’s thesis, École des Hautes Études Commerciales]. Canadian Research Data Centre Network.

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Crocker, R., Pepin, C., Hurrell, K., Wald, S., Wiebe, J., Wong, G., & Ahmed, N. (2014). Apprenticeship Completion, Certification and Outcomes. Red Seal Excellence Program.

Dostie, B. (2010, October). A Competing Risks Analysis of the Determinants of Low Completion Rates in the Canadian Apprenticeship System. (Canadian Labour Market and Skills Research Network Working Paper No. 67). Canadian Labour Market and Skills Research Network.

Finnie, R., Miyairi, M., Dubois, M., Bonen, T., & Amery, B. (2019). How Much Do They Make? New evidence on the early career earnings of Canadian post-secondary education graduates by credential and field of study. Education Policy Research Initiative and Labour Market Information Council.

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Insightrix Research Inc. (2017, November). Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission Apprenticeship Survey. Saskatchewan Apprenticeship and Trade Certification Commission.

Laporte, C., & Mueller, R. (2012, October). Certification, Completion, and the Wages of Canadian Registered Apprentices. (Catalogue No. 11F0019M — No. 345). Statistics Canada.

Laryea, S.A., & Medu, K. (2010). National Apprenticeship Survey 2007: Participation of Women, Immigrants and Aboriginal People in Apprenticeship Programs. Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Ménard, M., Menezes, F., Chan, C.K.Y., & Walker, M. (2008, September). National Apprenticeship Survey: Canada Overview Report, 2007. (Catalogue No. 81-598-X No. 001). Statistics Canada.

Ahmed, N. (2010). National Apprenticeship Survey 2007: Labour Market Outcomes of Canadian Apprentices. Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Prism Economics and Analysis. (2019). The Apprentice Demand in the Top Ten Red Seal Trades: A 2019 National Labour Market Information Report. Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, ISBN: 978-0-9808913-3-1.

Sharpe, A., & Gibson, J. (2005, September). The Apprenticeship System in Canada: Trends and Issues. Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

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Statistics Canada. (2018). Pathways and earnings indicators for registered apprentices in Canada.

Statistics Canada. (2020). Mobility, earnings, and pathway indicators for journeypersons in Canada, 2017.

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