A trades training program that is helping connect immigrants and aboriginal people with construction careers in Alberta has made changes to its curriculum.
The Calgary-based Momentum Community Economic Development Society is a not-for-profit organization funded by the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education to provide a 25-week pre-apprenticeship trades training program.
The organization outlined the changes to its program in a presentation at the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s national conference held recently in Montreal. The review of the program started in 2014, with most changes implemented in 2017.
“We’ve been doing this almost 28 years and over that time we have seen lots of changes,” explained Laura Diaz, program facilitator at Momentum, adding the organization uses a community economic development approach that offers opportunities for people living in poverty.
“Alberta had that really bad recession that hit and so everyone wanted training, which is great, except individuals in the program were now competing with people that were maybe unemployed that had experience. We really had to look at what can we do to enhance their knowledge and skills that is going to make them more employable and stand out in an area where employers now have their pick of the crop.”
We changed our focus in our teaching to be really relevant per trade
— Laura Diaz
Momentum Community Economic Development Society
Participants start the program by taking part in a 12-week academic upgrading component at Momentum which includes math, science, communication skills, life skills and employability skills.
Momentum has a contract with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) to provide six weeks of technical training, which is followed by a six-week work experience component. The program, offered four or five times a year, provides streams in the areas of carpentry, automotive/heavy duty technician, plumbing and pipefitting, electrician and welding.
The first part of the program involves getting participants ready for an entrance exam which they take during their first week at SAIT. In Alberta, if an individual hasn’t gone to school in Canada or they haven’t graduated, they need to pass the exam before moving onto the apprenticeship process. In addition to the labour market challenges and less employment opportunities, Diaz said one of the reasons for reviewing the curriculum was the passing mark for the entrance exam began to decline.
“We really started looking at our stakeholders, which are the employers and the educational institute that we use and saying how can we make it better,” said Diaz. “We changed our focus in our teaching to be really relevant per trade and we made sure that we used real work scenarios. We increased alignment with the labour market needs. Instead of doing English, we really looked at communication because a lot of newcomers have already taken traditional English as a Second Language classes. We realized we really needed to focus on workplace communication — how do we prepare them to be able to communicate in the workplace and how do we increase their written, spoken and non-verbal communication.”
Adam Krygier is an employment facilitator with Momentum and his goal is to help set up the work experience portion of the program and help participants connect with employers and job opportunities once they complete the program.
“They actually go out and work with the company for five or six weeks out in the field and basically what it does is it gives them the real-world, hands on experience with an employer that a lot of them maybe don’t have. Really it can help them set up their transition to actually finding work after the program,” said Krygier, adding networking with other journeymen and apprentices is another benefit.
“Having those connections, the network, is a big part of finding work moving forward in the field and in the construction industry. It also allows them to put something on a resume whereas maybe some of our newcomers don’t have a lot of experience. At the end of it if there is a position available at the company they’re working for sometimes our students even get hired on after the work experience, if they can really prove that they have what it takes and they can demonstrate that they are a good employee.”
The streams that are offered through the program are determined by the labour market and which trades are hiring. For example, with construction picking up in Calgary and housing starts up compared to last year, Krygier said there has been a demand for carpenters and he anticipates it will increase going forward.
“We just had a carpentry group come through and we’ve seen quite a few of them actually find paid employment fairly quickly and some of them were even able to secure paid employment during their work experience, so that’s a really good sign,” Krygier said.