January 16, 2024

Al PhillipsFALL IS TRADITIONALLY when we recognize our apprentices and their importance to our industry. It is our apprentices who will play a crucial role in shaping our province and the future of our trades.

As the former executive director of the UA Piping Industry College of BC, I was fortunate to witness firsthand the growth and development of hundreds of apprentices. Today, I am proud to see those same apprentices have transformed into true powerhouses on our job sites. They have progressed to senior roles and are actively engaging with our unions, making their mark on the industry.

For our construction trades, there is no better way to learn than through a formal apprenticeship program which combines on-the-job training and classroom instruction. Both components hold equal importance in developing the skills and knowledge required on our job sites.

Through hands-on experience, our apprentices get to work alongside qualified journeypersons, learning the ropes and gaining practical skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. Imagine trying to install an electrical or plumbing system by reading about it or watching an online tutorial. It cannot compare to the expertise, practical demonstrations, troubleshooting skills, safety guidance and mentorship provided by our veteran journeypersons.

Classroom instruction is equally important in providing apprentices with the theoretical knowledge and technical understanding that complements their on-the-job training. This is where they learn about industry standards, safety regulations and the science behind the craft. This knowledge improves their ability to solve problems and make informed decisions on site.

After years of lobbying, we were happy to see the provincial government taking steps to recognize the importance of skilled trades and of apprenticeships. On Dec. 1, 2023, our job sites will start to look a little different. Only certified journeypersons or registered apprentices will be permitted to work on projects in B.C. starting with the following electrical and mechanical designated trades: construction electrician, industrial electrician, powerline technician, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, gasfitter A & B, steamfitter/pipefitter and sheet metal worker. There are a number of additional trades that are currently in the process of being reviewed for designation including plumbing and sprinklerfitting.

By reinstating recognition for these professions, we send a positive message to society about the importance of skilled trades and encourage more individuals to pursue careers in these fields. Recognizing the effort and specialized skills required and making it a condition of employment will justifiably elevate the perception of our professions even further.

It’s no surprise that when the compulsory trade system was eliminated by the BC Liberals in 2003, there was a significant decrease in the number of apprentices completing their training and obtaining a Red Seal certification. The proportion of tradespeople with Red Seal certificates averaged 65 per cent in B.C. between 2011 and 2014. That was down significantly from 84 per cent between 2001 and 2004 according to a 2021 report from the BC Chamber of Commerce called Improving Apprenticeship Rates.

Since the skilled trades certification legislation was implemented last year, we are now witnessing a revitalization in the trades industry. In fact, there has been a 53 per cent increase in new apprenticeship registrations and a 22 per cent increase in the number of certificates of qualifications issued across the seven newly designated trades, according to SkilledTradesBC.

There is still much work to be done to attract more apprentices and ensure their successful completion of our Red Seal training programs. The legislation is gradually catching up and recognizing what those of us in the building trades have long understood: the skills required for our work are highly valuable. For those considering a career in the trades, this recognition should serve as a powerful incentive. The opportunities available in the trades are vast and, with the increased recognition of their value, these opportunities will only continue to grow.

By Al Phillips