August 3, 2022

FOURTH-YEAR MILLWRIGHT apprentice Alaura Jaggernath successfully wrote her Red Seal exam a few months ago, but she’s the first to admit she didn’t do it alone. Her union, Millwrights Local 2736, joined her every step of the way.

“I’ve had a lot of support from the union in general, said Jaggernath. “They paid for my school, paid for my books.”

Jaggernath, who competed in this year’s Skills BC contest, said there was always someone there to help her learn the trade.

“I have no idea about this, can you help me? They’re like, ‘yep, we can get you in contact with someone who knows this.’ This made me feel a lot more welcome, especially when you’re the only woman in every class,” she said.

Jaggernath said the most important thing about being in a unionized trade is the basic ability to support her family. She pointed out that the union not only supported her as she was going through her training, but also her family.

“The union gives a lot of opportunity to invite your family, help out your family if you’re going through a bit of a rough time… They just don’t talk about it a lot.”

Carey Simpson, director of training for Millwrights Local 2736, makes himselfavailable to members 24/7.

“I’m there seven days a week 24 hours a day,” says Simpson. “If we can’t make it happen during the day, then we can tackle it in the evening, or we can tackle it on a weekend. It’s about making sure that our members are properly trained.”

“We’re here to tutor them, we’re here to mentor them,” he continues. “We set them up with SkillPlan if they need any tutoring to help them with their levels or interprovincial exams. If I’m not available to do something, someone from one of the other unions will step in and do it.”

Indentured apprenticeships through the Local 2736, the only unionized millwright program in B.C., are highly sought after, said Simpson. “You know the word gets around, ‘Hey, if you want the best training, the millwrights union is the place to go,’” he said.

Wraparound supports are typical of union schools and key to making sure apprentices get the highest quality training available anywhere in B.C. It’s one of the reasons that union trades trainers have the highest apprenticeship completion rates in the province.

Ryan Starchuk, organizer/recruiter for Pile Drivers and Divers Local 2404, said that during COVID, when classroom sizes were cut in half, the local’s instructor rearranged scheduling so everyone in the program could continue, although it was more work.

“He did it for the benefit of all the students, he didn’t want to leave anybody behind,” said Starchuk.

Millwrights Local 2736 and Pile Drivers & Divers Local 2404 are among those whose members also have full access to an international training centre that also includes a union awareness and leadership program.

“All the training facilities I’ve ever been involved in have generally state-of-the-art facilities and incredibly qualified instructors,” said Starchuk. “They have training models that have been around for decades and decades. They’re not some fly-by-night training school that’s cropped up to try to make a quick buck or anything like that.”

Tom Miller is the training plan administrator for the Construction & Specialized Workers’ Union/Laborers International Union of North America Local 1611, which operates the Professional Labourers’ Union School, known as Training PLUS.

He describes the union itself as “a big-time wrap around support.”

“When you take training through us, you then have the ability to talk with service reps and work with dispatch on gaining employment,” said Miller. “The union has the proper supports to take our members through the complete process from training to employment. We are not just a third-party training school where you are responsible to source out employment completely on your own.”

He adds, “The emphasis that we put on not only getting the training, but just the value and the quality of the training at the same time, I think is paramount. The biggest thing I want to stress is that union job sites are safer than non-union sites, and I think the training is a huge part, if not the biggest component of that.”

Miller is referring to the “union safety effect,” a term coined by the Ontario Construction Secretariat upon research that revealed unionized construction sites are 31 per cent safer than non-union construction sites.

“For every hour that a member works, we receive a certain amount of money, ranging across agreements, so whenever members do need to take training, whether it’s for safety certifications, or skills training classes, they don’t have to pay anything out of pocket,” said Miller. “It’s awesome for members, especially for multi-week programs, or longer classes, which can get really, really, expensive.”

LiUNA’s Training PLUS has the only construction craft worker Red Seal designation in B.C.

Training schools attached to Millwrights Local 2736, Pile Drivers and Divers Local 2404 and LiUNA Local 1611 are among the more than a dozen training schools that come under the umbrella of the College of the BC Building Trades.

In addition to providing superior training, many union training schools also offer financial support that ranges from completion bursaries to monthly stipends. For example, Pile Drivers and Divers Local 2404 offers an apprenticeship savings plan.

“A lot of people struggle when they have to go to school because they have to take time off work, but their benefits do continue” said Starchuk. “And then the savings plan helps to cover living expenses.”

Union training schools are funded by their unions, signatory contractors and government programs like the Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP).

By Megan Terepocki