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Apprenticeship reporting a thorny issue for the industry

Russell Hixson
Apprenticeship reporting a thorny issue for the industry

The Canadian government’s request for voluntary apprenticeship reporting on federal projects has sharply divided the Western Canadian construction industry as to its effectiveness.

"There is no provision for apprenticeship training there. I think it’s very unfortunate," said Tom Sigurdson, executive director for B.C. Building Trades.

Requiring  a certain number of apprenticeships on public jobs was an idea officials have explored but never implemented.

The Canadian government stated in its 2013 Economic Action Plan it would begin to look into how it can promote apprenticeships on federal projects.

The plan outlined "three pillars of action" to create apprentice opportunities across Canada, which consisted of promoting education in high-demand fields, reducing barriers to apprentice accreditation and supporting the use of apprentices by employers through federal procurement policies.

Key among the federal procurement policy tools that were entertained was mandating arbitrary apprentice quotas on federal construction contracts.

In recent months, Canadian Construction Association received confirmation that the government won’t mandate the use of apprentices.

Sigurdson said this course of action doesn’t make sense.

For just one trade, he said, he has roughly 400 people on a waiting list because there are not enough placement opportunities.

A hot economy coupled with an aging workforce poised to retire have him concerned.

"We’ve got to make sure we have a new generation of skilled workers coming," Sigurdson said.

"From what we see we have a great lot of folks that are interested, but we can’t take them in case we can’t place them. And, we are going to lose them."

Others, like Jack Davidson of B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, don’t support the idea of apprenticeship requirements.

"There’s so many other jobs and industry needs that apprenticeship just doesn’t fill," he said.

He believes government and the industry should be focusing on training, including non-apprenticeship training and training to upgrade skills.

He said more flexible non-apprenticeship training programs can often better meet the needs of an industry.

While apprenticeships are great for certain types of labour, the majority of jobs lend themselves to training, Davidson said.

Davidson said tying apprenticeships to jobs also doesn’t make sense due to the start and stop nature of projects in the industry. It requires them to have a job to work on.

"When the job is over, they are on their own, the completion rate on that is very low," he said.

According to Davidson, apprenticeship quotas also would prevent employers from being able to hire the most skilled and most experienced people for jobs.

"The future for B.C. is great and we have to be prepared," Davidson said.

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