February 24, 2014
Skilled workforce development in B.C.
Industry Voices | Jeff Skosnik
B.C.'s economy is growing. One consequence of that growth is, as B.C. Christy Clark Premier remarked, "A cumulative gap of 22,000 to 32,000 technical and trades workers in B.C., if we do not take appropriate action".
A March 2013 Journal of Commerce article noted that BC Hydro is planning to do $4 billion of construction work by 2017.
Also as noted, part of BC Hydro’s response to the training challenges posed by all this work was to build a new Trades Training Centre to enable much needed apprentice and journey person training programs.
Given the pressure on the existing college system, industry is very pleased that BC Hydro now has a Training Centre of its own because it increases our training capacity in many skills shortage areas.
It also achieves economies of scale in some highly specialized areas that will benefit both BC Hydro and industry.
The Trades Training Centre serves as the anchor for apprentice and journeyperson trades training.
The centre will improve and modernize safety and work methods training of BC Hydro’s workers to keep pace with the changing equipment and materials being used to renew, and expand, the province’s electricity system infrastructure.
Through partnerships established by BC Hydro, apprentices and journeypersons also receive part of their curriculum at colleges and universities throughout B.C.
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is also working with the industry to deal with the skills shortage in the power line trade.
This past summer TRU’s School of Trades and Technology ran a seven-week Power Line Technician (PLT) Program with a class of 32, which is double the college norm for trades training.
The larger class size in fact brought some surprising benefits.
Because the teacher-student ratio was 1:32, the students came to rely more upon themselves and one another more than in a typical trade class.
Also, the larger class size brought greater diversity to the class.
One of the PLT students, for example, had third year university physics and organized a student study group that was a no-cost item to the college, but of great value to the students.
Lab safety issues were handled by having students do their lab work in small supervised groups, where the teacher to student ratio was 1:16 or in higher risk situations as low as 1:8 for the period of high risk.
TRU partnered with industry, which constructed a pole yard for the hands-on experience and provided paid Co-op work for all the students.
The results of TRU’s new approach to trades training speak for themselves.
Thirty-two students took the program, all of them passed and 30 students are now working in the PLT trade.
Four of these students were First Nations.
Given its innovative approach and partnership with industry, TRU’s School of Trades and Technology is able to offer this program at a weekly tuition cost of $150 per student, which is a great value both to students and the employers who need trained workers.
The other benefit is that TRU was able to deliver the class when industry wanted it delivered.
It wasn’t on a tight, inflexible schedule, which is something that was greatly appreciated by industry. The TRU program also had a significant impact on the skills shortage issue in the power line industry.
At the start of the program, there were about 100 private sector PLT apprentices, but when it ended there were 32 more—an increase of about 32 per cent.
This is the first part of a two part series on the challenges, solutions and future of the technical training system of British Columbia.
Jeff Skosnik is the CEO of the Line Contractors Association of B.C. Direct comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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