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Manitoba construction sector calls for consultation on apprentice system

Russell Hixson
Manitoba construction sector calls for consultation on apprentice system

The construction industry in Manitoba is growing increasingly concerned with the province’s lack of consultation on its strategy for skills education and changes to apprenticeship.

When the industry found out about plans to shift the allowable ratio of apprentices to journeypersons from a 1:1 ratio to a 2:1 ratio, along with other changes, the province’s industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector associations and building trade unions sent a letter to officials urging them to reconsider.

“We have witnessed a great deal of turnover in the Apprenticeship Board and the Apprenticeship Branch over the past few years and it has been difficult, if not impossible, to follow new developments or participate in meaningful consultations with this organization,” stated the letter, which asked Ralph Eichler, minister of economic development and training, to meet with stakeholders.

The letter was signed by the Winnipeg Construction Association (WCA), Manitoba Building Trades, the Construction Association of Rural Manitoba, the Mechanical Contractors Association of Manitoba and the Construction Labour Relations Association of Manitoba.

The province also recently had to back away from scrapping the Construction Industry Wages Act after heavy opposition from construction stakeholders who were caught off guard by the potential change. The province now intends to update the act.

Tanya Palson, communications manager for the Manitoba Building Trades, explained some of these changes have impacts on collective bargaining, incentives to become a journeyperson, wage competitiveness, jobsite safety, quality of training and more. She said that her group isn’t opposed to looking at making changes but has growing concerns about the province’s decision-making process.

“We feel like if we were at the table we could help,” said Palson.

The building trades stated Manitoba should learn from B.C., which eliminated compulsory trades and focused on “just-in-time” training or “micro-credentialing,” instead of wider skills training. The building trades argue as a result of these changes, B.C. saw lower wages and lower apprenticeship completion rates where on average only three in 10 apprentices achieved journeyperson status.

Palson added not only do the building trades feel like consultation has been lacking, but the actions being taken will produce the opposite results of what the province’s own skills strategy seeks.

“They are contradicting the strategy and we feel like if we were at the table we could help clarify some of that stuff,” she said. “We can’t imagine any government, regardless of ideology, would want to see one of their biggest industries suffer so badly due to some regulatory changes.”

Darryl Harrison, the WCA’s director of stakeholder engagement, noted while he appreciates some elements of the province’s strategy, communication needs to improve.

“We like that they are trying to make sure education is aligned with labour market demands, particularly the construction industry,” said Harrison. “It’s important that if someone is aiming to enter construction or pursue an apprenticeship that they have a clear understanding about what their career prospects are at the end.”

He explained the WCA often gets calls from apprentices trying to find employers to take them on.

“If the government is in any way able to help in making those connections, certainly it would be positive for the apprentice and their employers.”

Harrison urged the province to implement recommendations made in a 2018 review of the apprenticeship system. The report’s suggestions include establishing industry trade advisory committees, clarifying communication protocols, reducing turnover of high level positions, analyzing labour market information and creating long-term strategic plans.

The province has explained its strategy will focus on four key areas:

  • Anticipating skills needed for the future.
  • Aligning education and training to labour market needs and helping students succeed.
  • Fostering entrepreneurial and innovative skills.
  • Growing, attracting and retaining talent.

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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