Paul Duykers, now a Red Seal certified carpenter, remembers the “old school” days of what it was like to be an apprentice.

Duykers has been the general manager of construction at Maples Retirement Living in Antigonish, N.S., for 12 years and oversees the construction work of 13 to 15 duplexes (26 to 30 units) each year. With his employer, Steve Smith, owner of Maples Retirement Living, Duykers wants to attract and retain apprentices by creating a welcoming workplace and a positive learning culture.

Plumbers, carpenters, electricians and concrete finishers are among the trades professionals they either employ or sub-contract. However, like many other builders throughout Nova Scotia, Duykers and Smith are feeling the effects of the skilled labour shortage. Recognizing the need to attract and retain skilled trade professionals, Smith offers construction workers perks like financial bonuses and helpful courtesies – such as access to a heated lunch trailer.

“Because most of our work happens at one worksite, we have been able to offer our workers the use of a lunch trailer where they can go to get warm. There are microwaves for heating up lunches, a fridge to keep things cool, and water to stay hydrated,” said Duykers. “Once a week, we receive a free meal that everyone can enjoy together, which is another benefit for us.”


Maples Retirement Living currently employs four Red Seal carpenters, which provides an added benefit for apprentices as they learn different techniques from experienced builders in the industry.

“There is not just one way of doing things and we encourage our apprentices to learn different techniques by working with the other certified carpenters,” said Duykers, advising apprentices to share their ideas. “If they suggest a different way of doing things that’s more economical, we’ll give it a try,” he added.

Joe Boland is a second-level apprentice who is learning to become a certified carpenter from Duykers. He describes Duykers as “laid back and easy going,” and says his workplace promotes a learning culture where apprentices feel supported when they make a mistake.

“If we mess up, there is no stress. Someone will show you how to do it right,” said Boland.

Duykers believes that patience, appreciation and promoting a safe and positive learning culture is key to attracting and retaining skilled workers.

“Number one, we can’t lose them. Number two, they’re learning so we have to be patient and we have to take steps to ensure they understand the technique,” he explained.


As an added incentive to attract apprentices, and encourage training completion and certification, Smith is giving back a percentage of the $25,000 Apprenticeship START funding he receives for each trainee.

The Apprenticeship START program is a financial incentive that is available for small to medium-sized businesses and organizations in Nova Scotia, to encourage employers to register, retain and support their apprentices during their apprenticeship journey.

“The guys were just blown away when I told them what they would be getting,” said Duykers. “Mr. Smith is giving 25 per cent of the funding back to the apprentice throughout their apprenticeship journey. So when an apprentice starts a level of training, they receive $250. They then receive another $750 after they complete the level as an incentive to finish, which is $1,000 total each year.”

Smith also reimburses approximately $800 to cover the cost of books, $148 to cover the apprenticeship fee and $148 to cover any exam fees. After they write and pass their Red Seal certification exam, they get another $1000 bonus.

“It’s not easy for apprentices when they are just getting started in their career,” said Smith. “Books and fees are an added expense and if we can help by covering those costs and by treating them well, we hope that it will show them that they are valued.”

Duykers said that when he approached Smith with the idea to reinvest a portion of the Apprenticeship START funding, Smith didn’t even blink an eye.

“I had asked if he would consider giving 20 per cent of the funding incentive back to the apprentices and he wanted to give 25 per cent back instead. That just goes to show how much he values the apprentices who are working here, that he wants to retain them and his commitment to helping them progress,” he said.

To learn more about Apprenticeship START and other incentives available to employers such as Canadian Apprenticeship Service, visit


Red Seal Carpenter teaching apprentice at worksite