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INDUSTRY VOICES: Breaking down skilled trade barriers

Gary McDermott
INDUSTRY VOICES: Breaking down skilled trade barriers

Last April, the province launched the B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint – a road map for re-engineering education and training to support our province’s demand for skilled labour.

The blueprint lays out a comprehensive new path to promote and deliver training, as well as a mandate to reach young people, women, new Canadians, and Aboriginal peoples, and encourage these groups to engage in a career in the trades.

With a young and growing population and proximity to resource development projects, Aboriginal peoples are a key to meeting B.C.’s future skilled labour needs. First Nations communities are also seeking skills training because trades careers are mobile and these skills are transferable. Communities want to bring skilled labour home to develop projects and maintain infrastructure. While there is a demand for trades training, and an interest by Aboriginal communities, the Apprenticeship system is complex and can be difficult to navigate. In the past, barriers to access have reduced the amount of uptake.

The Industry Training Authority (ITA) has been working to help overcome these challenges, and ensure Aboriginal Peoples have the information and support they need to take part in training and benefit from new careers. With the launch of the blueprint, we have been able to adopt a new approach, which better connects people and communities with programs and training opportunities, and provides a clear and supportive pathway right through to trade certification.

One of our most significant initiatives has been to embed Aboriginal knowledge within our ground support team throughout the province. Six of our 15 regional apprenticeship advisors are what we call "subject matter experts." They are either from B.C. Aboriginal communities or have worked closely with them. These apprenticeship advisors are fanned out across the province to provide support across the region. We are also developing knowledge sharing programs. This new system better enables us to understand and communicate with Aboriginal communities. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and our subject matter experts are creating important relationships and bridges into the communities to share information about opportunities and training, and be there to answer questions and provide support.

We are also launching a project to develop an Aboriginal Construction Craft Worker Foundation Program, which follows the launch of the Red Seal Construction Craft Worker Program in B.C. The project is supported through labour market funding from both the province and the federal government. This new program will provide an excellent opportunity for Aboriginal Peoples especially in the north, as the Construction Craft Worker is an extremely high-demand occupation for LNG facility construction projects. Launched as a new Red Seal trade in British Columbia this past summer, nine training providers have already begun piloting the Construction Craft Worker Program. The Aboriginal focused program built around the existing Construction Craft Worker program is further supported by a steering committee, which includes representatives from industry, education and First Nations communities.

Since 2007, ITA has been developing initiatives to increase Aboriginal participation in the trades, and have seen participation in skilled trades training rise by 118 percent. Aboriginal peoples now make up approximately 10 percent of B.C.’s tradespeople. But more growth is needed if we are to see First Nations have a skilled workforce within their own communities and help BC meet its future labour needs. We are confident this will happen. New investment in training programs is here and on the way. Industry and First Nations communities are meeting to discuss mutual needs and goals, and government partners and ITA are working to break down remaining barriers and ensure Aboriginal People have awareness and access to flexible, responsive training..

Gary McDermott is the Director of Aboriginal Initiatives for the Industry Training Authority. Contact Gary at For more information about ITA’s Aboriginal Initiatives visit

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