May 12, 2014

Industry Training Authority's new board facing challenges

As B.C.'s new nine-member board of directors of the Industry Training Authority (ITA) take up their positions, they face the daunting task of changing a rigid system.

The Crown corporation is responsible for leading B.C.’s trades training.

“I don’t think the ITA has been a failure – not by a long shot,” said Phil Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA).

“The apprentice numbers and employee participants, and employer sponsors have been at an all-time high.”

However, Hochstein said the new slate of board members signalled a shift in the approach of the training authority.

“We are on the cusp of a significant amount of work in B.C. and the whole training system needs to be refocused,” he said.

He added that the ITA should be data driven and proactive rather than reactive.

Appointees such as Gwyn Morgan (founding member of EnCana Corporation and chairman of SNC-Lavalin until 2013) and Andries (Andy) Calitz (CEO of LNG Canada) are experienced and seasoned enough to help refocus the organization, he said.

Another executive is Jonathan Whitworth, CEO of Seaspan.

Refocusing the apprenticeship training programs will be a tough task, he said, because they are dealing with traditional apprenticeship training systems plus educational institutions , which have their own complex systems in place. He said that these two aspects alone will make it difficult to effect change and will take strong leadership and collaboration amongst all parties involved.

The new ITA board brings together diverse players, beginning with the new chairman, who was the chairman of SNC-Lavalin during its troubled time of alleged kickbacks and when its CEO was charged with fraud.

Also, on board is representation from First Nations, Gordon Grant, a communications co-ordinator for the First Nations Employment Society and Barj Dhahan, CEO of the Sandhurst Group, who also has strong ties to the East Indian community, and a founding donor and member of the Canada-India Centre for Excellence at Carlton University in Ottawa.

W.J. Whitemarsh, former CEO of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Homebuilders Association, represents small business.

Labour and trades is represented by Rick Kasper, a retired bricklayer and stonemason and Sooke council member, as well as Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the British Columbia and Yukon Territory Building and Construction Trades Council.

Sigurdson said with the investment and proposed LNG development, employers will be looking for tradesmen.

“They will be looking for skilled workers and fully qualified workers and not pretenders,” he said, adding that some working in the industry today are not qualified for the jobs that will appear in a few years.

Sigurdson said he believes he can bring the merits of the traditional apprenticeship program to the board.

“I think we can work collaboratively and make the system better for those entering the apprenticeship system,” he said, adding that the traditional system practiced by the trades has a completion rate of 85 to 90 per cent.

The B.C. Federation of Labour’s apprenticeship committee issued a report recently that was highly critical of the ITA apprenticeship system stating that completion rates had dropped to 43 per cent in 2012 and that employer support was at a low as only 9,412 of B.C.’s 174,000 registered sponsors were involved with apprentices.

It also stated that the regional counselling and support system had been eroded and that ITA issued Certificates of Qualification did not reflect the full scope of work that a union-trained journeyman was qualified to do.

A strong advocate for how institutions can better facilitate trades students is board member Lindsay Langill, professor and the dean of School of Trades and Technology at Thompson River University (TRU).

He was also a senior director of program standards for the ITA.

TRU is known for innovative programs.

Langill said he is passionate about apprenticeship and trades training and hopes to serve as an ambassador, who will take a higher profile role in promoting trades and changing its 1980-90s culture.

Trades today include technology training requirements.

“Technology today filters into every trade,” he said.

There is also room for institutions to raise the profile of trades, he said, pointing to the work at TRU.

The university has created a bachelor’s degree that accommodates Red Seal certification.

“We will give credit for up to two years towards an academic degree,” he said, adding this is an effort by the institution to do away with the old concept of differentiating between vocational and academic training.

He cited a need for a seamless approach to lifelong learning.

B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) president Manley McLachlan said he was pleased to see a new board in place that is ready to implement the 29 recommendations made by Jessica McDonald during an independent review.

“The BCCA is ready to step up and assist in whatever way we can to ensure swift and effective implementation of the 29 recommendations,” he said. “We know it’s going to take a collaborative and no-nonsense effort to get enough highly employable, skilled people on the ground and ready for action when the time comes and we’re ready to get started.”

New ITA chair focused on results

B.C.'s new Industry Training Authority (ITA) chair is no stranger to controversy and stands ready to tackle the tough task of reshaping the apprenticeship system in B.C. He plans to make it more responsive to both labour and industry needs.

“I am focused more on results,” said Gwyn Morgan, founding CEO of natural gas producer EnCana Corporation and also the former board chair of SNC-Lavalin during one of the company’s most troubled times.

Morgan now faces the daunting task of reconciling the ITA apprentice system with the traditional trade union system, but also deal with educational institutions.

“There needs to be some strong decisive action,” he said.

Morgan said he was impressed with Jessica McDonald’s independent review of the ITA and its 29 recommendations.

The government is backing the report’s finding and the board has been given support to carry out the essence of the report’s recommendations.

“We know what we have to do,” Morgan said, adding that the board is empowered to make changes within the ITA, but also needs to work with outside stakeholders. He said the work goes beyond simple apprenticeship training.

“We need to do some missionary work,” he said. This work involves promoting the trades in schools, encouraging more high school programs and opportunities, as well as training opportunities. But, the ITA also needs more employers to place apprentices, he said.

Morgan doesn’t believe his time with SNC-Lavalin is a barrier to his new role.

Morgan stepped down in May 2013 as SNC-Lavalin board chair, after the company was given a 10-year World Bank ban.

Former CEO Pierre Duhaime was charged with fraud in connection with contracts to build the McGill University Superhospital. There were also allegations that SNC-Lavalin paid millions to the sons of former dictator Moammar Gadhafi to secure engineering contracts in Libya.

Morgan stayed at the helm of the board throughout this tumultuous time.

“This came like a bolt out of the blue,” he said.

“(Board members) hunkered down to find what happened and worked to make the necessary changes, and then moved on.”

He had no intention of resigning when the problems hit.

“If I had run away, my reputation would have been of no value.”

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