October 9, 2013
Taking a look at the skills training models in British Columbia
Opposing Views | Philip Hochstein
British Columbia has a problem and it's a good problem to have.
We may have too many jobs and not enough skilled workers to fill those jobs.
The opposite is less desirable by far; too few jobs and too many unemployed.
The old line craft unions in a recent article made grand suggestions about how to deal with a skilled labour shortage.
However if the unions want to help, they can start by looking at their own impediments to training that prevent young people from getting a chance to get into the industry.
Construction unions are responsible for less than a quarter of all trainees.
Why is that?
It’s because their collective agreements restrict the number of people they are allowed to train. The agreements limit their workforce instead of growing it.
As an example all we need to do is look at how Boiler Makers are trained.
It’s required that five fully trained Boiler Makers are working before one apprentice is allowed to be hired.
It’s a design that is meant to keep the labour market tight and confined.
It is these kinds of inefficiencies in their collective agreements that contribute to skill shortages.
The proof is in the numbers.
In 1990, under this kind of closed system, there were 15,000 apprentices registered in B.C.
When the training system was opened up the numbers soared.
Today we have 35,000 apprentices registered in the province and that number continues to grow.
That’s over 100 per cent increase and the completion rates remain the same.
Of those 35,000 apprentices, the craft unions represent only 5,000.
So how do we solve the coming skilled labour shortage?
Firstly the government needs to keep saying ‘Yes’ to economic development that benefits British
Apprentices need jobs, with no projects there are no jobs.
Secondly, make the education system flexible.
The current model, where apprentices have to leave home and the worksite for up to 10 weeks for technical training is a relic of the past and needs to be changed.
Employees should not go that long without a paycheque, which adversely affects those with families.
This should be restructured to a front end loading model so that 60-70 weeks of the technical training are taken before the individual has secured an apprenticeship position.
So many other professions work this way; school first, work second.
The ICBA also supports part-time schooling, e-learning and worksite based training as solutions to this issue.
Thirdly, don’t restrict access to temporary foreign workers.
If we run out of skilled Canadians to do the job, then let’s bring these workers in to continue the training and mentoring of our apprentices.
It will help solve the problem short term and for the future.
This is an option that the craft unions do not want.
However, they obviously recognize the need and have in the past issued ‘travel cards’ for foreign workers as long as those workers had a union card.
The stance of the Building Trades is not to proceed with development should temporary foreign workers be included as part of the solution.
This is a narrow way of looking at the economic future of our province.
If the government adopted this view, we would miss windows of economic opportunity that would have a positive impact on every British Columbian whether they work in trades or not. We are all affected.
We applaud the Liberal government for listening to all sides and we owe it to B.C.’s young people to be a part of a solution that guarantees a stable future for them.
It’s good that the old craft unions recognize the coming boom in projects for B.C. and the overwhelming need for training programs that work.
However the B.C. Building Trades needs to clean up its own house before offering advice to the government on how it should be handling a skilled labour shortage.
Philip Hochstein is the president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) of B.C. Philip is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.
To see Tom Sigurdson and Jim Sinclair's take on skilled trades training, click here.
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