BY RUSSELL HIXSON - To cope with a booming natural resource industry and a changing workforce, B.C. officials are bringing trades training to the remote communities where jobs are growing.
Residents of northern and remote communities, particularly aboriginal people, are getting access to training where they live so they can take advantage of opportunities in LNG, mining, forestry and other growing industries.
This is one part of the B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint plan by the province to handle the estimated one million jobs that retirements and growth will create over the next decade. Mobile training trailers outfitted for classes in welding, electrical, millwright, pipe fitting and other trades are already enabling aboriginal participants to explore trades training through innovative programs like Bridging to Trades.
According to Shirley Bond, B.C. minister of jobs, tourism and skills training, there are three mobile training simulator units operating in the province based out of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, Thompson Rivers University and Northwest Community College.
Bond said the units are in high demand, and are proving effective in offering both introduction to trades and foundation level trades in remote areas.
Officials are also considering providing in-camp training right on the worksite to connect workers with the skills they need without having to leave their jobs or communities.
For conventional classroom training, government is providing $6.6 million this year to increase the number of seats in high demand, LNG-related trades to reduce waitlists.
These approaches are being aided by new technologies that enable online learning, so that students can access trades training through flexible delivery models like virtual classrooms and free online textbooks.
The province is also looking into building flexibility in the trades training system through front-end loaded apprenticeships. This would put classroom work at the beginning of the apprenticeship, rather than spreading it out throughout the program. For apprentices that live in remote communities, this minimizes time away from home. Front-end loading also gives employers confidence that apprentices will be on-the-job when they are needed most.
Bond said one key to the initiative is working with aboriginal peoples, who make up the youngest and fastest growing population in these remote areas. Government will be identifying alternative sponsorship models to support small and medium enterprises and aboriginal communities to enable apprentices to train under them. Aboriginal trades recruiters, youth worker networks and funding will go towards reaching the goal of increasing aboriginal workforce participation by two per cent over the next 10 years, adding 15,000 new aboriginal workers.
Government currently invests more than $7.6 billion each year in education and training. Officials said new programs don’t mean spending more, but focusing on different areas.
This fiscal year, more than $160 million will be invested into the plan. Over the next four years, this will ramp up to nearly $400 million per year, Bond said. That’s in addition to $185 million in capital spending for trades training infrastructure and equipment over the next three years.
Bond said to formulate the new strategy, more than 150 individuals representing employers, apprentices, industry, labour, trainers, the Industry Training Authority and government were interviewed; 33 written submissions were reviewed and cross-jurisdictional best practices reviews were completed. The research led to a series of recommendations.
“We will be working closely with labour and industry leaders so our apprenticeship system better matches industry needs, provide the highest level of training for our apprentices, and get students from study to the workplace more quickly,” Bond said.
The British Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the British Columbia Construction Association, Seaspan and major LNG companies have all been vocal supporters of Blueprint, Bond said.
“We need to do everything possible to make sure the trained workers are there – that will help LNG proponents get to final investment decisions and help the rest of our economy continue to grow,” Bond said.