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ITA head discusses apprenticeship challenges

Warren Frey
ITA head discusses apprenticeship challenges

Increasing apprenticeship is the smartest way to address a looming skills gap in British Columbia, states one industry leader. Gary Herman, CEO of the Industry Training Authority of British Columbia (ITA BC), spoke at the recent Buildex Vancouver conference about the challenges and opportunities of attracting, training and retaining skilled workers.

Over the next decade, Herman said, there will be over one million job openings in B.C. — 123,000 of those will be for trade occupations and the majority of those trades will require apprenticeship training.

Many of these trades are in construction and many that aren’t directly related, such as machinists, have some ties to construction, Herman added.

"If I can paint the picture of the magnitude that is available, it is unlimited for what’s going to be there for skilled tradespeople in B.C.," Herman said.

He cited the advantages of apprentice sponsorship for employers, including meeting demand for skilled workers as an aid to succession planning and as a financial advantage for the employer.

"It also creates pride in the next generation," Herman said, adding "apprenticeship diversifies the workforce because the larger the pool of qualified candidates, the better chance an employer has of finding the right people with the right skills at the right time."

Herman stressed the need to retain apprentices, which he said can be accomplished by offering a safe and welcoming workforce, adaptable communication styles and consistent job expectations.

"Once you get your ticket, the opportunities are unlimited," Herman said, citing starting one’s own company, going into senior management or specializing in a skilled trade as possible post-apprenticeship routes.

Skilled workers returning from Alberta, along with Albertan workers coming to B.C. for new opportunities, can affect apprenticeship levels, he said.

"If you can hire a journeyperson, in many cases if they’re out of work, you can hire them for close to what you can hire an apprentice," he said.

"It does affect the rates of apprenticeship uptake, especially in outlying areas, more in the north and northeast of B.C."

Herman noted since oil is a commodity, the impact of returning workers will reverse at some point, "which is all the more reason for B.C. employers to be planning now in succession planning, backfilling the positions they need to strengthen their workforce with apprentices."

Presently apprenticeship opportunities are primarily located in the Lower Mainland, Herman said.

"But those opportunities will open up elsewhere in the province when resources come back. Mining is already starting to come back, softwood lumber is strong," he said.

Industry engagement is an important part of the ITA’s mission, Herman stated, and the organization has formed 11 sector advisory groups, including one for construction and a separate group for construction associations, since the two sectors have "somewhat differing views regarding apprenticeship."

Herman also cited an apprentice job match tool (itabc.ca/jobmatch) as an "eHarmony for apprentices," where employers and potential apprentices can make connections. The ITA also publishes a guide on employing women in the trades as well as another guide to attracting, employing and retaining aboriginal people in the trades.

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