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Exploring the Earnings of Red Seal Trade Certificate Holders

LMI Insight Report no. 40

March 2021

Home > All Publications > LMI Insight Report no. 40, Exploring the Earnings of Red Seal Trade Certificate Holders

Table of Contents

Key Findings

  • In the first year following certification, Red Seal trade certificate holders earn on average $64,000, which grows to $73,800 after eight years. This represents 15% total growth or 2.1% average annual growth. However, there is considerable variation in earnings levels, growth and patterns within the skilled trades.
  • The six highest-earning certificate holders make more than $96,000 annually eight years following certification, with Instrumentation & Control ($119,200), Heavy Duty Equipment Technician ($110,400) and Mobile Crane Operator ($106,600) topping the list.
  • In terms of those Red Seal trades with the highest growth in earnings, several trades have experienced more than 20% total growth over the eight years, or 3.1% average annual growth: Motor Vehicle Body Repairers (Metal & Paint) with 42% total growth, Cooks (30%) and Automotive Service Technicians (28%). These figures translate to 5.2%, 3.8% and 3.6% per year, respectively.
  • Several Red Seal trades are also associated with considerable volatility in earnings from one year to the next. For instance, Rig Technicians, Iron Workers (Reinforcing) and Welders experienced the most significant declines in their earnings, with peak-to-trough drops of 43%, 17% and 14% respectively.
  • Industrial Mechanics (also known as Millwrights) are the only journeypersons with both high earnings ($96,900 in year eight) and high growth (3.1% per year) relative to all other trades.
  • A key limitation of the data is that although we captured the annual earnings of trade certificate holders, we do not know what occupation they are working in nor are we able to capture hours worked. In some cases, journeypersons might be working in fields or sectors different from their trade.


In March 2021, LMIC and the Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI) released a joint report on the average earnings of journeypersons who obtained Red Seal certification in 2009. The report builds on last year’s look into the earnings of post-secondary education (PSE) graduates. Both reports leverage the Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP), which includes anonymized administrative data held by Statistics Canada on PSE students and those who enroll and participate in apprenticeships programs (see Box 1). This LMIC Insight Report follows the 2009 cohort of Red Seal journeypersons over eight years to better understand earning levels, growth and fluctuations (see Box 2). An interactive dashboard can be used to explore all the findings of the research report and of this analysis, as well as other dimensions of the available data. 

The analysis here focuses on the highest-earning trades and those with the most significant growth in earnings. We find that some of the higher earnings trades are also those subject to greater earnings volatility, especially when economic conditions change. Conversely, journeypersons with more modest earnings levels after certification experienced consistent growth over the eight years for which data are available. 

Fifty-six Red Seal trades comprise the data analysis in the joint LMICEPRI report. This Insight Report focuses on the subset of Red Seal trades with sufficient data for analysis.1

1 The remaining Red Seal trades earnings information cannot be released due to data confidentiality rules. These remaining 27 trades are grouped into six trade categories. The trades that remain in the sample account for between 86% and 99% of all 2009 Red Seal journeypersons in each category.

Box 1: What is the Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform?

Developed by Statistics Canada and Employment and Social Development Canada, the Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Platform (ELMLP) data environment provides enrollment information on all college and university graduates from publicly funded Canadian PSE institutions through the Postsecondary Student Information System (PSIS) and all trade holder certificates through the Registered Apprenticeship Information System (RAIS). Both administrative records are linked to tax records from the T1 Family File (T1FF), allowing us to follow the annual employment earnings of PSE graduates and trade certificate holders. Earnings include salaries/wages from an employer as well as self-employment income. The ELMLP does not have information on individual occupations so the earnings captured may not strictly come from trade salaries/wages. The earnings trajectory of 2010 PSE graduates was the focus of the LMIC–EPRI joint report How Much Do They Make? The associated data are also available on our interactive dashboard. For additional information, please visit our ELMLP project page.

Box 2: Who are Red Seal Certificate Holders?

Red Seal trades are those governed by regulations under the Provincial and Territorial Apprenticeship Acts and Interprovincial Standards Red Seal Programs. It also sets common standards to assess the skills of journeypersons across Canada. In this report, Red Seal trade certificate holders (known as journeypersons) include two groups: “completers” who receive their certificates after completing in-class training through the Red Seal Programs; and “qualifiers” who write the final certification exam without registering for any Red Seal programs.

Highest-Earning Red Seal Trades

Table 1 lists the six trades in which journeypersons earn more than $96,000 eight years after certification. Three of these are in the Mechanical category: one in Vehicle and Related (Mobile Crane Operators), one in Metal (Millwrights) and one in Other (Rig Technicians). Table 1 also provides a brief description of tasks associated with each trade, as well as the average earnings in the first and eighth year after certification.


Table 1: Descriptions of Red Seal trades with highest earnings (2009 cohort over eight years since certification)


Trade Average earnings one year after certification Average earnings eight years after certification Trade Category Description
Instrumentation & Control Technicians $107,600 $119,200 Mechanical Install and service instruments to monitor processes and equipment
Heavy Duty Equipment Technicians $98,200 $110,400 Mechanical Diagnose, adjust and maintain mobile heavy-duty equipment
Mobile Crane Operators $93,500 $106,600 Vehicle & Related Service, operate, inspect and setup mobile cranes
Rig Technicians $111,600 $103,500 Other Services Work on drilling rigs to extract hydrocarbons such as oil
Steamfitters/pipefitters $91,700 $98,700 Mechanical Maintain and repair piping systems containing water, fuel, chemicals and gases
Industrial Mechanics (Millwrights) $78,800 $96,900 Metal Maintain and repair industrial machinery and mechanical equipment



These six trades represent 15% of the Red Seal journeypersons in the 2009 cohort. Half of these trades are among the Mechanical trade category. The lowest earning trade among these high earners are Industrial Mechanics (Millwrights), who earn substantially less than the other trades listed above, yet their earnings grow fastest among the group: 23% over eight years or 3.1% per year. All other high-earnings trades experience total growth of less than 14%, or 2.2% per year on average.

Although earnings are generally high, a number of these trades experienced significant earnings declines (Figure 1). In particular, the earnings of Rig Technicians declined by 43% from 2014 to 2016, falling 7% lower than the first year since certification. Since they are responsible for running and servicing drills to extract hydrocarbons, the work of Rig Technicians is closely tied to the oil and gas sector, so their fortunes rise and fall with the industry. The earnings of the five other high-earning trades saw declines ranging from 2% for Industrial Mechanics to 11% for Instrumentation & Control Technicians and Mobile Crane Operators over the same period.

Despite their higher earnings level, the earnings volatility among the highest-earning trades significantly lowers their earnings growth (1.7% per year compared to 2.3% for all other trade certificate holders).

Red Seal Trades with the Highest Earnings Growth

A high level of earnings does not mean that earnings grow stably or substantially over time. Table 2 presents the earnings among journeypersons in the six trades with the fastest earnings growth. Each of these trades experienced a net increase in earnings of 23% or greater, averaging 3.1% or more yearly.


Table 2: Red Seal trades with highest growth (2009 cohort over eight years since certification)

Trade Trade category Average annual growth Total earnings increase since certification Year 1 earnings Year 8 earnings Description
Motor Vehicle Body Repairer (Metal and Paint) Vehicle & Related 5.2% 42% $56,600 $69,500 Repair and restore damaged motor vehicles and estimate costs to fix
Cooks Other 3.8% 30% $42,200 $49,300 Plan food menus, supplies, costs as well as prepare meals
Automotive Service Technicians Vehicle & Related


3.6% 28% $51,600 $65,800 Diagnosis and service systems in cars and light trucks
Industrial Electricians Electrical 3.3% 25% $68,100 $85,300 Service and maintain industrial equipment and controls using electrical power
Machinists Metal 3.1% 23% $61,800 $76,000 Setup and operate machines that cut or grind materials into products with precise dimensions
Industrial Mechanic (Millwright) Metal 3.1% 23% $78,800 $96,900 Maintain and repair industrial machinery and mechanical equipment



The six highest-growth trades represent 20% of trade certificate holders in the 2009 Red Seal cohort. Notably, Industrial Mechanics (Millwrights) are the only trade included among both the highest-earning level and highest-growth earnings.

Taken together, the six highest-growth trades had total earnings growth ranging from 23% to 42% over eight years, or 3.1% to 5.2% per year. The growth in earnings among all other Red Seal journeypersons (for which data is available at the specific trade level) in the 2009 cohort ranges from 7% to 19% over eight years, or 0.6% to 2.5% per year.

Red Seal Trades with Fluctuating Earnings

Table 3 lists trades with significant drops and fluctuations in earnings since certification. These trades are ordered by the difference between their highest earning year and subsequent lowest earning year (i.e., the peak-to-trough change). Among these seven trades, five are also among the highest-earning trades shown in Figure 1.


Table 3: Red Seal trades with earnings declines (2009 cohort over eight years since certification)

Trade Trade category Average Earnings Eight Years after Certification Annual Earnings Volatility since Certification** Peak-to-Trough Earnings Drop***
Rig Technician* Other $103,500 22% 43%
Ironworker (Reinforcing) Metal $66,800 9% 17%
Welder Metal $81,400 7% 14%
Mobile Crane Operator* Vehicle & Related $106,600 7% 13%
Instrumentation and Control Technician* Mechanical $119,200 5% 11%
Steamfitter/Pipefitter* Mechanical $98,700 5% 10%
Heavy Duty Equipment Technician* Vehicle & Related $110,400 5% 9%


*These trades are among the highest-earning trades discussed above.
**Volatility is calculated as the standard deviation of annual average earnings growth since certification.
***The specific year of peak and trough earnings varies by trade and is not reported here.


The peak-to-trough earnings declines range from 9% to 43% among trades listed in Table 3. Rig Technicians and Mobile Crane Operators saw first-year earnings growth of over 15%, but also saw annual declines greater than 31% and 7% in subsequent years, respectively. Ironworkers and Welders saw annual growth of over 7% for the two years after certification, but losses as large as 9% in subsequent years. Annual earnings volatility ranges from 5% to 22% for the trades listed, while all other journeypersons in the 2009 cohort show volatility ranging from 2% to 5%.

For the sake of comparison, among the six high-growth trades, Machinists show the largest earnings declines of 7% and earnings volatility of 5%. Otherwise, high-growth trades see negligible drops in average earnings (less than 2%) and volatility ranging from 2% to 3%.


Our report shows promising early career earnings of Red Seal trade certificate holders with earnings patterns and trends varying by broad trade category. This Insight Report highlights how earnings differ by specific trade certificate holders. It shows that several trades with modest earnings show steady growth following certification. This contrasts with some of the high-earning trades that can be subject to significant earnings declines, which contributes to lower earnings growth.

More generally, our report enables us to link trade certifications to tax earnings, and to explore the earnings trajectories of journeypersons across various factors. As we know from previous surveys, Canadians look for earnings information more than any other type of labour market information.

Importantly, the earnings information discussed here is only part of the labour market information Canadians should consider when making career, training and education decisions. Additional labour market information on employment demand, working conditions and cost of acquiring accreditation — as well as a focus personal interests — can help to ensure that decisions are fully informed.


This LMI Insight Report, drawing on the LMIC–EPRI report on earnings of Red Seal journeypersons, was prepared by Graham Dobbs. We would like to thank EPRI for their efforts in leading the main report and providing the data for this Insight Report. For more information about this Insight Report and other related LMIC activities, please check out our project page or contact Tony Bonen, Director, Research, Data and Analytics at

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