BY PETER CAULFIELD - With an expected shortage of more than 30,000 skilled workers and less than one in 30 high school students entering the trades after graduation, the B.C. construction industry has been encouraging more young people to enter the skilled trades.
However, early efforts at engagement have inevitably hit a few bumps along the way.
For example, North Vancouver resident Helen Goodland has been unable to get her 18-year-old son Charlie into one of BC Institute of Technology’s Trades Discovery programs, which give students hands-on experience in about 20 different trades available at the school.
“Charlie will be graduating from St. Thomas Aquinas high school in June and he’s looking for a career,” said Goodland, principal of environmental sustainability consultants Brantwood Consulting.
“Charlie likes the outdoors and sports, and he has been looking at the construction trades.”
St. Thomas Aquinas focuses on academics, and doesn’t offer courses in the trades.
Goodland and her husband are both architects and are familiar with architecture and design in the construction industry, but know little about the hands-on trades.
“We thought one of BCIT’s Trades Discovery programs would be a good way for Charlie to become familiar with some different trades, help him narrow down his search, pick up some basic skills and perhaps help him to get an apprenticeship,” Goodland said.
“But, the earliest Charlie can get into a program is May 2015, which is a year from now. What’s he going to do for a year?”
The Goodlands say they’re sure they’re not the only family in B.C. in this situation.
“The construction industry needs to do something to help get more young people into the industry, especially ones like Charlie, who are keen and enthusiastic, but who don’t come from families with a background in construction,” she said.
“Otherwise, B.C. will continue to be short of construction workers in the future.”
Abigail Fulton, vice president of the B.C. Construction Association, said the challenges the Goodlands face are symptomatic of a lack of information available at the high school level to students and their parents about the industrial trades, including those in the construction industry.
“Over the years there has been a big shift in societal attitudes about what is considered a good career for young people,” she said.
“It seems most parents want their children to go to university and get a white-collar job. The construction industry needs to shift those attitudes, so that more parents and their children realize the many benefits of a career in construction.”
There are already some initiatives that promote careers in the trades. For example, the ACE IT program, a partnership between the Industry Training Authority and the B.C. Ministry of Education, allows high school students to take first-level technical training that gives them dual credit for high school courses and apprenticeship or industry training programs.
High school students take the first level technical – or classroom – component of an apprenticeship program.
Once they have successfully completed an ACE IT program, they receive credit for the first level of the classroom component of the training program and graduation course credits.
In addition to ACE IT, the Construction Foundation of B.C., a charitable organization of the BCCA, recently launched the Project Shop Class fundraising initiative to improve shop facilities.
Earlier this winter, the foundation received 89 applications from B.C. high schools hoping to qualify for funding to upgrade their skills training facilities.
Fifty-two of 60 B.C. school districts offer shop classes in more than 260 schools, with 48 of those school districts offering Secondary School Apprenticeship (SSA) training.
The foundation wants to upgrade high school shop facilities, some of which <0x000a>have not been updated in decades.
The project has received requests for as little as $5,000 and as much as $100,000, for tools, materials and facilities renovation or more space to accommodate increased student enrollment.
On an individual level, Randy Callaghan, field personnel advisor with PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc., has been going to high schools in the province and encouraging career counselors, shop instructors and the students to think about entering an apprenticeship in construction.
“I’m PCL’s apprentice guy,” Callaghan said.
“Not enough high school career counselors know about the construction industry and they need to be told about it. So, I’ve been going to high schools in 10 different school districts in western B.C. to develop relationships with students and shop instructors.”