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Non-profit offers new approach to apprenticeships

Russell Hixson
Non-profit offers new approach to apprenticeships

A new non-profit based in Langley, B.C. is offering a different approach to tackling the province’s skilled labour crunch. SkillSource is a group training organization with a mandate to increase access to trades training and work experience for apprentices. It sponsors and matches apprentices with specific employers to learn the full scope of a trade and build skills.

Participating employers get a flexible workforce by supplying skilled apprentices with short-term or long-term work experience rather than the entire four years.

"What we do is offer an alternate pathway for apprentices to your traditional being indentured to one employer for four years model," said CEO Doug MacLaren. "We recruit and hire apprentices and actually place them with employers for their work experience. But, we support that apprentice from the time they are registered until they are certified."

He explained that those hoping to break into the trades face an uphill battle getting experience.

"It’s not easy nowadays. You have got to convince an employer to take you for four years," he said. "The Building Trades helps people in their sector, but that’s just a certain percentage. What about everybody else?"

SkillSource operates province-wide, but is primarily working in the Lower Mainland with a project starting up in Kamloops this fall. The non-profit launched in March. The goal now is recruiting the right people and educating employers interested in participating.

"Employers have to understand what we are offering, and a lot of times employers that haven’t dealt with apprenticeship, which is a significant chunk of them, it’s an educational process," MacLaren said. While many companies agree that more skilled workers are needed, it can be difficult to find one willing to take on the responsibility of an apprentice. SkillSource attempts to take away much of the burden. It manages the recruitment of apprentices that are the right fit for needs, alleviates administrative payroll burdens and assumes responsibility for the processing of legal obligations related to the apprentices’ wages, payroll deductions, employment insurance and workers’ compensation. SkillSource will also complete all apprenticeship related paperwork, arrange technical training to support apprenticeship completion and rotate apprentices to suit a workload and to support apprentice training requirements.

"We take all that burden off the employers, and they only have to provide work experience," he said. "It gives them a lot more flexibility." MacLaren said the new non-profit is the only one he knows of providing the alternative apprenticeship path in Canada. But, in countries like Australia, nearly 150 exist, assisting tens of thousands of workers.

"The provincial government hasn’t really stepped up to the plate yet," MacLaren said. "What we are wanting to do is show them the feasibility of the approach and then maybe expand it." He noted that SkillSource is currently working with about 25 apprentices, though he added that finding good, qualified apprentices can be difficult. He said SkillSource is looking for people willing to learn with a positive attitude and a commitment to safety.

"We get a large volume of resumes, sometimes in occupations we are not looking for," he said, noting that the industry is particularly desperate for carpentry apprentices.

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