Onerous government regulations make it too hard for young people to get jobs in skilled trades, where there's a growing demand for badly needed workers.

That's the conclusion of a report from think tank C.D. Howe on Wednesday, which found that red tape — mainly at the provincial level — is making it unnecessarily difficult for workers to get training and apprenticeships to become carpenters, electricians, welders, plumbers, bricklayers and other jobs.

Provinces regulate whether workers must complete a certified apprenticeship in order to legally work in an occupation, as well as the length of apprenticeship terms. "Strict provincial regulations on the rate at which firms may hire apprentices, which is relative to the number of certified workers they employ, reduce the number of people who work in a trade," the C.D. Howe report notes.

Among the most heavyhanded rules that the report singles out are mandated caps on the ratios between apprentices and journeyman trainers in selected trades. And overall caps on the number of licensed, registered apprenticeships in the first place.

"The effect is to reduce the number of people who work in a trade," the report's author, Benjamin Dachis, said.

Skills gap?

According to census data from 2006, 2.1 million Canadians worked in a trade for some period the previous year, good enough to make up about 13 per cent of Canada's work force that year. Meanwhile, recent business surveys claim that as many as 24 per cent of Canadian employers can't find enough skilled workers to fill positions.

It's an issue the federal government has targeted as being a significant hindrance to growth. But the piecemeal grants and programs aren't enough to offset regional imbalances and inefficiencies due to "outdated" policies.

The report found that provinces that impose tight restrictions on the ability to get apprenticeships in a skilled trade report 44 per cent fewer workers in those trades than other provinces. The report acknowledges that the reason provinces keep a close eye on regulating trades is to ensure quality work and skills are being learned in safe working conditions.

But "loosening restrictions on entry would not necessarily mean eliminating regulations," C.D. Howe said. Governments can still monitor and regulate the standards of work being done in skilled trades without arbitrarily limiting access to them.

"Regulating outcomes, rather than inputs, would enable competition to drive service quality among individual trades workers," the report reads.

That relative lack of supply contributes to even higher wages for the skilled tradespeople that do exist — as much as 10 per cent more, C.D. Howe's research suggests. That's good for those workers, but bad for consumers and bad for Canada's economy as a whole.

"With recent moves by the federal government to encourage workers to enter the trades, it is now up to the provinces to eliminate antiquated regulations on apprenticeship," Dachis said.