Finally, the first steps are being taken

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tom Sigurdson

First steps are always the most important. It doesn't matter what the task is, the first step is what gets us started on the journey.

Apprenticeship is a first step. It takes an individual from unqualified to journeyman. It teaches us skills that allow us to become masters. It moves us from uncertainty to knowledgeable in the trade. Apprenticeship is the most important first step we take to begin a career in the construction industry.

Over the next decade, there is going to be a seismic shift in the appearance of our workforce. The people we work beside are leaving the job sites to enter a new phase in their lives—retirement. For those who were born at the beginning of the baby boom (1946 to 1950), retirement may already be a reality.For those who were born at the end of the boom (1960 to 1964), retirement is still a few years away. For those leaving construction, baby boom retirement means looking forward to settling into well-deserved relaxation. For those still working in the industry, it means scrambling to fill the positions when they leave.

The number of young people entering apprenticeships do not equate to the number of people retiring. Build Force Canada estimates that with the current rate of retirement and the entry rate for apprentices, in B.C. alone, there may be a shortage of 26,100 skilled construction workers by 2023. How are we going to get ready for that reality?

In late April, the government introduced "B.C.'s Skills for Jobs Blueprint: Re-engineering Education and Training." The plan sets out a number of goals, including examining trades training and apprenticeships from a different perspective. The Jobs Blueprint is only a first step, albeit an important one.

Along with the blueprint was the release of the Jessica McDonald report on the Industry Training Authority and trades training in B.C. McDonald made 29 recommendations which could fundamentally change apprenticeship delivery and support models. This is another important first step. Hopefully, it will bring badly needed changes to the ITA and lead to comprehensive apprenticeship programs that include mandatory returns to class for instruction. The report supports putting counsellors back in the field to liaise with the apprentices and contractors to ensure training and mentorships are being provided. Support mechanisms (including job placements) are needed to move young people through the course of their studies to successful journeyman status.

The Jobs Blueprint and the McDonald Report signal significant shifts in government policy.

A new board of directors for the ITA has been appointed to implement the recommendations. As the executive director for the BC Building Trades, I was asked and I accepted an appointment to the board. The new board must accept the challenges and find a way to attract more young people to apprenticeships. It will have to deliver training models that ensure those new apprentices become qualified journeyman. Failure is not an option.


I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the contribution Allan Bruce made while serving as a director on the previous ITA board. Allan was the administrator for the Operating Engineers Local 115 Training Plan until 2002. He then took a position as an international representative for the IUOE. He served as labour's sole representative on the nine-person ITA board from 2005 to 2014. As the training administrator, an international rep, and ITA board member, Allan made a tremendous contribution to trades training throughout B.C. He expressed strong support for apprenticeships and the professional trades to a sometimes disinterested audience. We are most grateful for his valued and numerous contributions.

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