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Trade group revamps to improve training, help fill market gaps

The Greater Victoria construction sector is steady but not booming, leading some Camosun College carpentry students to head off to the oil patch or up to Kitimat for jobs. That’s part of the complicated picture for trades training in B.C.
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After weeks of blasting rock, construction of the new $30-million-plus trades training building on CamosunÕs Interurban campus will soon start to take shape. The Centre for Trades Education and Innovation will incorporate new space for emerging trades such as shipbuilding.
The Greater Victoria construction sector is steady but not booming, leading some Camosun College carpentry students to head off to the oil patch or up to Kitimat for jobs.

That’s part of the complicated picture for trades training in B.C. as the province’s Industry Training Authority is being revamped this year. Challenges include how to provide the best and desired trades training as demand grows, beefing up partnerships with industry and labour, be cost-effective, and attract under-represented groups, such as women and aboriginal workers.

It’s about more than numbers — it’s also about where workers are located. On Vancouver Island, the construction sector wants to convince skilled workers who have left for higher-paying jobs to come back home.

Employers fear they won’t have access to enough skilled workers once projects, such as new hospitals, ramp up. They are also thinking of other planned or potential projects, such as the capital region’s sewage treatment facility or a liquefied natural gas plant on the Island’s west coast.

Every year, more than 50 Camosun carpentry students complete Foundation training, which provides basic entry level skills, said Al van Akker, Camosun’s acting dean of trades and technology and the school’s chairman of architectural trades.

For those who don’t find work locally, Kitimat or the oil patch are attractive.

“A lot of local carpenters are heading up that way,” van Akker said Tuesday.

Since van Akker joined Camosun in 2000, the numbers of carpentry apprenticeship classes climbed to a high of 45 in 2007, the year before the recession put the brakes on many construction plans. Class numbers are now at about 25 but still about double what they were 14 years ago.

Camosun has about 2,200 students annually in 20 trades foundation and apprenticeship programs. Construction started in the spring on its new $22-million, 80,000-square-foot Centre for Trades Education and Innovation where it will incorporate new space for emerging trades such as shipbuilding.

The Industry Training Authority released its 2013-2014 annual report this week. The authority is being revamped following a major report this year analyzing the organization and a new skills-for-jobs provincial blueprint. It is to become a more accountable organization that measures results of its initiatives. Its new board was chosen to help develop stronger partnerships with industry and labour. Annual and multi-year planning will identify targets for industry sectors and regions.

The Richmond-based agency, with slightly more than 60 staff, received $94.4 million from the province in 2013-14.

Since a record high year in 2011-12, when 8,750 credentials were issued, numbers dropped to 7,059 in 2013-14, the annual report said. The lower figure came in below the target of 8,000. That likely reflects labour market conditions, said the Industry Training Authority, which expects some of those apprentices will complete their program in the future.

This year’s target is 8,250, rising to 8,750 in 2016-17. A credential is either completing an apprenticeship program or passing a challenge to prove skills. It normally takes four to six years to complete an apprenticeship.

B.C. has about 35,000 registered apprentices in its industry training system, including youth, who can enter in high school.

Phil Venoit, Vancouver Island president of the B.C. and Yukon Territory Building Construction Trades Council, has a different perspective than van Akker, saying it can be difficult for those new to the trades to find work, compared with those with existing skills. Newcomers lack the hands-on training that skilled journeymen have.

“It is creating, I believe, a lot of frustration at the early levels of apprenticeship,” Venoit said. This applies particularly to non-union people, he said. Union workers may be sponsored as working apprentices by their employers or by a union. To encourage employers to take on apprentices, Venoit recommends increasing the government’s financial hiring incentives and suggests a government commitment setting a certain level of apprentices on major projects.

cjwilson@timescolonist.como

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