Nova Scotia

Atlantic provinces, Manitoba apprenticeship IT system 4 years behind schedule

A long-delayed information technology system for apprenticeship in the Atlantic provinces and Manitoba is nearing completion and will go live sometime in 2022.

Project is nearing completion and expected to go live sometime in 2022

Labour, Skills and Immigration Minister Jill Balser is upbeat about the new Apprenticeship Management System, despite the 4-year delay in implementation. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

A long-delayed information technology system for apprenticeship in the Atlantic provinces and Manitoba is nearing completion and will go live sometime in 2022, four years behind schedule.

The Apprenticeship Management System is billed as an online portal that will allow employers and apprentices in participating provinces to log on and track on-the-job hours, apply for training and associated exams.

Like many information technology projects, there have been hiccups.

This one has seen its share of problems and delays, according to a briefing document prepared for Jill Balser, Nova Scotia's minister of labour, skills and immigration. Her department is the lead department for the provinces on the project.

"We know that there were concerns that were brought forward and we can't ignore that," said Balser. "But we can move forward and be able to address them and continue to make sure that this program is going to be ready to go."

When the five-year, $11-million Apprenticeship Management System was announced in October 2017, it was expected to be up and running in late 2018, according to a Nova Scotia government news release. 

'Significantly behind schedule'

Developer ABM Integrated Solutions led a three-company consortium contracted to build the system.

Ottawa committed $4.86 million. Nova Scotia's share was $1.8 million, but that quickly jumped to $2.36 million in 2019. It has not increased since then, Balser said.

The briefing prepared for Balser noted ABM Integrated Solutions was already "significantly behind schedule by 2018."

Concerns over the project

Concerns emerged over the course of the project, including ABM's reliance on outdated software, potential internal security weaknesses, overbilling for consulting fees, cost overruns, payment holdbacks by government and delays in user acceptance testing.

"There is a risk that ABM will cease work on the project without additional funding," said the briefing note prepared for Balser when she assumed the portfolio after the government changed in August. 

Department spokesperson Monica MacLean said in a statement to CBC News the contractor has "made no threats to walk away from the project." 

"This is simply a risk identified by the project partners — a function of good project management. We jointly remain committed to completing the system," said MacLean.

Nova Scotia IT company Mariner validated that the security solution proposed by the vendor will be effective, MacLean said.

Mariner will complete Nova Scotia's threat risk assessment prior to the system going live in the province. These costs were included in the overall budget.

Fewer defects

In a statement, ABM Integrated Solutions president Craig Lynk said while he could not speak to the details of the contract, "I am very proud of the work we are doing with the provinces to develop an IT solution that supports apprentices and employers."

Some 500 defects were identified during the initial user acceptance test and 281 were deemed high or critical.

Those were all addressed and Balser said only 10 defects remain.

Implementation by 2022

The province expects the program to complete its milestone "core build" this month.

"Timelines are set and we will have an implementation by 2022," said Balser. "Knowing again that there were issues identified, we have worked with the contractor to address them and I'm very confident that we're going to be able to meet that implementation."

Employers and apprentices in Nova Scotia were scheduled to be the first to use the Apprenticeship Management System.

Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and P.E.I. were expected to follow.

The briefing document said Manitoba withdrew from the project in February 2021 because it could not secure extra money to cover cost overruns. Balser said Manitoba is now participating.

"A project of this size has a lot of complex pieces to it," she said. "There are many jurisdictions that are involved, all the Atlantic provinces, including Manitoba, so there are diverse needs that needed to be met. So we made sure that we were working together collaboratively to have the goal by 2022 in place."

Missing pieces

The department statement said each province, including Manitoba, "will determine when, how and if they implement the system."

There remains a number of missing pieces, including a service level agreement to support long-term maintenance of the system. That needs to be signed before the system is implemented.

Nova Scotia has yet to sign off on the core product. That will happen, it said, once all issues have been addressed, including ongoing software upgrades.

The provinces still need to find a host for the AMS web platform because the consortium withdrew from hosting in December 2020.

A request for proposals is being developed.

'We believe in this project'

Annual estimates were redacted from the briefing document obtained by CBC News.

Despite the missing pieces, Balser remains upbeat.

"We do have a collective agreement with all Atlantic regions, including Manitoba, on this project," she said. "We believe in this project. We want to modernize the apprenticeship management program and it's going to bring apprenticeships on par with post-secondary institutions."


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.