A cash-payment program launched by the BC Construction Association (BCCA) has so far paid out $7 million in funds from the federal government to employers who’ve hired new apprentices in 39 Red Seal trades.
The BCCA Apprenticeship Services Program pays eligible employers $5,000 for each first-year apprentice. The amount doubles if the apprentice self-identifies or is deemed to be part of an equity-deserving group.
The program is the most far-reaching Red Seal apprenticeship drive ever undertaken in B.C. and was set up because the province is experiencing unprecedented demand for skilled trades in a post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Funding for the program comes from the federal government’s apprenticeship service. BCCA, which operates as an intermediary with employers, launched its program last fall and has sent payments to more than 470 employers across the province who have registered a total of approximately 700 apprentices.
The program has registered apprentices in 33 trades. Most have been for carpenters, construction electricians and plumbers.
BCCA president Chris Atchison says the program is proving to be a hit with employers and there is still plenty of money left in the pot for them to claim.
“We’ve got at least that much more to disburse,” he explains. “We are almost exactly halfway of what our goal is, so we’ve still got millions available to distribute. There’s no concern about the money running out.”
The program is geared to help small- and medium-sized employers in B.C.’s construction industry hire and register first-year apprentices. A construction employer with fewer than 500 employees is eligible for funds for hiring new employees, registering existing ones as a first-year Red Seal apprentice, or switching an existing apprentice or journeyperson into a different Red Seal trade as a first-year apprentice.
Participating employers receive an additional $5,000 if the apprentice hired self-reports as a woman, new Canadian, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, person with a disability or a visible minority. Between 50 and 60 per cent of apprentices that are being registered are self-declaring as part of an equity-deserving group. Presently 96 per cent of workers in the province’s construction industry are male.
Under the program, employers can receive payments for up to two first-year apprenticeship positions, in each year of the two-year campaign, for a maximum of $40,000 per employer. The first fiscal year ended March 31. The second fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31, 2024.
“It really is an apprenticeship drive for the entire industry to really put value on the need for their workforce to begin that pathway to journeyperson status in one of the 39 Red Seal trades,” says Atchison.
There are no strings attached to how employers can spend the money once it’s received. The BCCA is suggesting it be spent on hiring bonuses, gear and work apparel, safety equipment, to offset the cost of sick leave, training and mentoring, professional development and wage hikes for field or office staff.
Prior to receiving funds, the BCCA scrutinizes applications to make sure employers meet all the criteria.
“We validate every employer that comes into our system and we check to make sure that they have the appropriate registration to do business in B.C., that they have the appropriate safety certifications that enables them to do work here,” notes Atchison. “We make sure that they are appropriate in terms of size. We have teams that are designated to each employer that applies, to walk them through the process.”
Employers who register are required to disclose the new hire or existing apprentice who wants to switch to another trade. Employers can click here to learn more about the program and complete an application form.
When the funding stream was first announced, the BCCA wasn’t entirely sure what the uptake would be like among employers. However, the association reached out via its network of partners and ensured when employers stepped up to participate, the organization was ready to facilitate the process.
“We were a little bit nervous about what the uptake would be and we anticipated that employers would come to us and say, ‘Great, yeah, I’d love the money but we’ve been telling you for years we can’t find anybody,’” says Atchison. “But what we’re finding is that roughly 90 per cent of the employers are coming to us with labour, somebody from their community, somebody from their networks.”
The program also dovetails nicely with a separate Builders Life campaign that was started by the BCCA to attract recruits to the industry. The purpose of the campaign is to help individuals learn more about careers in the industry.
“We have a talent pool of people with construction experience or that are either working or not working, people who are drawn to the industry because of the high-opportunity occupations,” says Atchison. “We’re sitting on a talent pool of roughly 5,000 eligible workers from British Columbia that want to be in the industry, that want to be matched with employers.”
The Apprenticeship Services Program will enable the BCCA to “mine that talent pool and now make some exceptional matches within the industry.”