October 29, 2012
To meet skilled labour demand apprenticeships need an overhaul
View from the Board | Tom Sigurdson
British Columbia is poised for increased economic activity and the demand for skilled workers will most certainly increase commensurately.
But, there is a problem. We likely won’t have enough skilled workers to meet the demand.
At recent meetings, proponents of multi-billion dollar projects have expressed their very real concern about whether or not there will be enough highly skilled workers to see their projects through to completion.
Rightfully, they want to know that there will be the right workers with the right skills available.
If we continue with the current B.C. apprenticeship training model, we most certainly won’t be able to supply enough skilled workers.
We need to change how apprenticeship training is delivered and we need to make those changes immediately.
In 2002, the Campbell/Clark Liberals restructured the apprenticeship training delivery system.
Regional offices were closed and the 120 staff of the former Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) was reduced to 50 (mainly) administration staff. The counselors, who were very much the foundation of the program, were eliminated.
In addition to the evisceration of the ITAC staff and structure, the government eliminated compulsory trades designations so that any jack might perform any task – regardless of their qualification.
There really has been little incentive or assistance for young people to enter and successfully complete their apprenticeship.
The completion rates, as reported by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) prove my point.
For 2011/12 the completion rate was 38 per cent. In previous years, the completion rate hovered in the low 40 per cent range.
Of the 32,602 ITA registered participants, about half are stale dated (beyond 15 months) or non Red Seal apprentices.
Of the remaining 16,000 participants, 50 per cent are in construction and more than half that number are union apprentices.
The completion rate in the unionized sector for 2011/12 was 90 per cent.
For 2010/11 the completion rate was 92 per cent and previous years were in the high 80/low 90 per cent range.
The premier recently announced that in the next fiscal year there will be funding for 15 “coaches.”
It is a teeny, tiny step in the right direction, but there is much, more which needs to be done to fix the damaged done to the apprenticeship system by myopic ideology. Change needs to start at the top.
The governance at the ITA and industry training organizations needs to have the wisdom of workers’ contributions to truly make the apprenticeship system whole.
Partisan political appointees, however well intentioned, are not a substitute for people who have gone through the system, worked on the tools and perhaps even taught their craft to others.
Organized labour has a significant role to play and much to offer in the dialogue which leads to program delivery.
Counselors, not coaches, are integral to the success of young apprentices.
Counselors made sure apprentices were properly registered, helped with job placements, were properly paid according to their apprentice level, were given additional instruction when necessary and in many other ways mentored the apprentice through to journey worker status.
Without counselors in place, is it any wonder we have 16,000 registered participants lost in the system?
And finally, we need to have compulsory trades designated.
In all of the discussions about the multitude of potential projects that may come to our province over the next few years, I have not heard one project proponent ask us to supply 3000 jacks of all trades to their site.
They want professional, highly skilled, productive workers with very specific skill sets, who can do the job safely and correctly the first time.
B.C. has the potential for a bright future. We need to make certain British Columbians who want to enter the skilled trades of construction have an equally bright future.
Tom Sigurdson is the executive director of the British Columbia/Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.
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