October 9, 2013
Taking a look at the skills training models in British Columbia
Opposing Views | Tom Sigurdson and Jim Sinclair
The B.C. Federation of Labour and the B.C. Building Trades recently met with the premier and agreed to strike a committee with equal representation from labour, industry and government to create a comprehensive skills training plan.
This was a critical step in building a highly-skilled and qualified, domestic workforce for B.C.’s upcoming major projects.
The meeting reopened a dialogue that never should have stopped. Construction unions particularly have always played a role in trades training.
The guilds have existed for hundreds of years and have used their leadership, mentorship and skills to train countless generations of journeypersons.
Today, many B.C. Building Trades’ unions have joint training boards made up of management and labour that collaboratively coordinate and deliver training.
Our joint boards’ apprenticeship programs invest over $13 million annually in training programs.
We have over 5,000 apprentices in our system with the average apprenticeship taking four to five years to complete.
B.C. Building Trades’ unions train bricklayers, tile setters, cement masons, electricians, ironworkers, operating engineers, construction truck drivers, flaggers, labourers, painters, glaziers, drywallers, plumbers and sheet metal workers.
The construction union training model works. Our completion rates of 85-90 per cent prove our success.
We know what it takes to mentor and train an apprentice and we are going to need a lot of apprentices if we want highly-skilled and qualified British Columbians working on the construction projects which are on the horizon.
B.C. could soon enjoy an economic boom of over $75 billion in major projects over the next 10 years.
These projects would create tens of thousands of construction jobs and thousands more operational and maintenance jobs thereafter, all of which will require highly-skilled and qualified workers.
We owe it to B.C.’s young people to develop a comprehensive and accessible training plan now that will support and encourage high school students into apprenticeships and train them through to journeypersons.
We owe it to northern British Columbians to make sure that northern residents are at the front of the line for these jobs, and that northern communities benefit from any resource extraction through local hiring and investment; both capital and training.
We owe it to under-represented groups like First Nations, women and other minorities to bridge a path into the trades.
There are opportunities presented by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other major projects across multiple industries.
But if British Columbians are not going to be the first to benefit, then our resources should stay in the ground.
Development for development sake is not an option.
That’s why we have taken a seat at the table.
We must ensure that B.C does not develop our resources with the wholesale use of temporary foreign workers.
When these projects go forward, it’s our duty as labour leaders to ensure that highly-skilled and qualified British Columbians and other Canadians have access to these jobs.
Workers in B.C. are looking to the labour movement to protect our birthright and ensure we have a rightful claim to the jobs that will come about from the economic boom.
We are willing and eager to work collaboratively with government and industry in an equal partnership to find solutions to this challenge.
It’s not an easy conversation for any of the parties at the table. And we won’t agree on all things.
But we owe it to workers in B.C. to hammer out investment in our training programs so that British Columbians have the time, mentorship and support they need to develop the skills to fill these jobs in the future.
Jim Sinclair is president of the B.C. Federation of Labour. Tom Sigurdson is executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council. Tom is also a member of the Journal of Commerce Editorial Advisory Board. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.
To read Philip Hochstein's views on skilled trades training, click here.
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