July 14, 2008

The ironworking trade has become more specialized in British Columbia as training has been divided into three different certifications.


The ironworking trade has become more specialized in British Columbia as training has been divided into three different certifications.

Concerns voiced over plans to make ironworkers trade more specialized

The British Columbia Industry Training Authority (BCITA) is in the process of updating the ironworkers trade certification by making the designation more specialized, but some people in the industry believe the changes will harm the trade.

An ironworker has traditionally been trained as a generalist that can perform a range of tasks.

According to the British Columbia Industry Training Authority (BCITA), ironworkers in the construction industry produce and install structural ironwork, concrete reinforcing materials and work with precast concrete to construct buildings or bridges.

Ironworkers are often involved in reinforcing concrete by cutting and shaping rebar so that concrete can be placed around it.

“Ottawa decided that the trade would be split up. So it is up to individual provinces to decide what the training will look like,” said Ron Rollins, chief instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

“This leaves the door open for provincial governments to do as they please.”

Rollins explained that the ironworker generalist, which was a Red Seal program, required 23 weeks in school before the apprentice went to work, as well as two five-week upgrades and 4,500 hours of practical experience

The Construction Industry Training Organization (CITO) is mandated by the BCITA to be the industry training authority for the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector.

CITO is changing the traditional training program for ironworkers in B.C. by implementing a training system similar to the one in Alberta, where these workers have become more specialized.

“There will be a reinforcing steel program, which is known as rebar, as well as structural steel and a bridging mechanism that would allow someone to be trained as a generalist,” said George Douglas, CEO of CITO.

“Someone who becomes certified in both rebar and structural ironwork can take a third program that will allow them to be certified as a generalist ironworker.”

One of the main concerns that Rollins has with the new training is the affect it will have on young apprentices.

“I think the government will have great statistics as the number of apprentices goes up, but the industry as a whole will have lower quality young apprentices,” said Rollins.

“Condensed training for people entering a trade is detrimental to the trade and to them. I can accept this for people who are already in the trade and are looking for certification, but this doesn’t help younger workers, who are entering a trade.”

Ironworkers Local 97 is concerned about the changes to the ironworker designation, because it may result in a deskilling of workers.

“The short term advantage to this approach is that the BCITA can increase the number of apprentices going through the system, by increasing the number of registered apprentices,” said Mike Mckoryk, spokesperson for the Ironworkers Local 97.

“The fear from us is that we are streamlining a workforce in a way that will make the workers less valuable in the long term as a skilled reliable workforce. Whenever you dissect a trade you don’t get the overall competency levels you have with a generalist. ”

The union believes there is an advantage to sticking with the old designation because it will be easier to maintain work.

“The new designation will hinder someone’s ability to travel and take their craft elsewhere,” he said.

According to Douglas, the training program for the structural ironworker should be completed by August.

Once this is done they will start working on the program for the reinforcing ironworker.

“At a practical level, we work with subject matter experts to spell out the skills, tasks and competencies that are required for the structural trade. These experts are people working on the job or foremen,” said Douglas.

Once this process is complete a report goes back to the governance committee, which then goes to the CITO board.

The organization has put together an industry steering committee that is guiding the process of splitting the ironworker training into three streams.

Rollins has more than 30 years experience as an ironworker and was involved with this committee as a subject matter expert.

“We tried to decide what could be taught in the upgraded structural steel program, but this task was more than difficult,” said Rollins.

“We were asked to trim back hours, but the companies in the industry are telling me that the training they want for an ironworker takes much longer. It is frustrating to see a program which is Canada’s best, and the oldest in North America, go through this process.”

According to Douglas, the whole process should be complete by year’s end.

A few additional months will also be needed to develop exams for the program.

An implementation strategy will need to be developed to get the program running in the college system. No date has been set for the launch of the program.

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