Industry Training Authority sharpens focus

B.C.’s Industry Training Authority is in the midst of a transformation that focuses on delivering skilled workers when and where they’re needed while giving industry a greater role in planning training programs, says its new chief executive officer.

“It’s really all about creating the right skills in the right place at the right time to ensure that B.C. has the necessary skills it needs going forward,” Gary Herman said Wednesday.

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He is bullish on the new two-year construction craft trade, B.C.’s 48th Red Seal trade, announced this month.

“They are the most populous job positions on any construction site,” Herman said, adding this position is in demand in the LNG sector.

“We are going to be kicking off training programs, hopefully by the end of December, with training providers and opening the door for this trade in B.C.”

Once someone earns credentials in a skilled trade, that opens more opportunities. “So if you are building an LNG plant and when that work eventually runs out, you can switch over and build condos in Vancouver because you’re used to working on job sites and all the things that go with that.”

The construction craft trade is one route for First Nations members to learn a skilled trade, Herman said. “Especially in the north, with this upcoming work.”

It is the ITA’s job is to run and co-ordinate B.C.’s skilled trades system. It works with companies, unions and 14 publicly backed universities and colleges, as well as 29 private training agencies. That includes union training schools and for-profit schools.

The authority’s new focus follows a review of its operations, including recommendations, along with the announcement of the B.C. Skills for Jobs Blueprint. One key part of the transition is an LNG action trades training plan to marry regional and sectoral demands.

Others include realigning training investment and enhancing industry engagement.

This means creating nine advisory groups for different sectors to counsel government and the ITA on industry-specific issues. Four industry-relations managers have been hired.

In addition, 15 apprenticeship advisers will have joined the ITA by the end of the year. So far, four are on the job; another six are to start Sept. 8. Five advisers will have aboriginal expertise.

This is taking place as B.C. predicts more than one million job openings between 2010 and 2020.

Of those, two-thirds will be openings due to retiring baby boomers, with the remainder resulting from growth in sectors such as LNG, mining and shipbuilding, Herman said.

“There are only three places to get skilled trades from,” he said. “You either grow your own through apprenticeship, or you poach them from others, or you import them. That’s it.”

Shortages of workers can dramatically increase construction costs, Herman said.

All of the post-secondary institutions the ITA works with are “very flexible and very enthused about doing whatever it takes to meet the upcoming demand for skilled trades,” he said.

One challenge is getting employers to hire apprentices, he said. “Employers don’t necessarily want to hire, without the work. So it’s a bit of a chicken-egg scenario.”

With the economy picking up, he said, “now is the time for employers to take a look at their succession planning of their skilled-trades workforce and hire apprentices. That is what we need.”

Tax incentives exist for employers and apprentices, Herman said.

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