B.C. will be implementing a compulsory trades certification system for the first time in 18 years.
While the province’s Building Trades Unions praised the action as a great start to restoring training and improving the lives of workers, the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) saw it as wasted effort that will create more barriers for aspiring tradespeople.
Chris Gardner, president of the ICBA, said the province’s plan will not address the industry’s shortage of workers, improve safety or create value for taxpayers.
“It will add complexity, cost and needless red tape,” he said.
Gardner explained some trades have years-long waitlists to get into classes and training can have limited locations.
“You don’t create opportunities for people to enter an industry by putting up barriers and new regulations,” he said.
He would have liked to see officials increase training spaces, refreshing course curriculum to be more relevant and utilizing creative forms of training delivery.
It’s not going to work. It’s going to make construction work more complicated and more costly,
— Chris Gardner
Independent Contractors and Businesses Association
Gardner also criticized the process, which he said excluded large parts of the industry, including the ICBA, the Electrical Contractors Association of B.C. and the Mechanical Contractors Association of B.C.
“Not one administrator or government official called (the ICBA) to ask for advice on this,” said Gardner. “It is incumbent on the government to reach out across the entire construction sector and they haven’t done that. They rushed the program out the door.”
While the province has launched an engagement process to shape the program, Gardner noted it has already chosen some of its keep aspects, including which initial trades to credential, requiring journeyperson-to-apprentice ratios and how long the industry will have to adjust to the changes.
Gardner argued the ratios in particular are troublesome. He noted the ratios with the province’s community benefits agreement policy when announced called for three journeypersons per apprentice.
“You are putting a limit on how many new workers can enter our industry,” said Gardner. “It’s not going to work. It’s going to make construction work more complicated and more costly in an era where we are focused on rebuilding our economy. The ratio is a level of bureaucracy that doesn’t make sense. Contractors know how to build things and run a project. They should leave those decisions to them.”
He added claims compulsory trades will improve quality and safety are a red herring. Gardner explained that the province has groups like Technical Safety BC and WorkSafeBC regulating and enforcing safety.
Municipalities have their own rules around safety that are enforced.
“This will have no impact,” said Gardner. “Instead it will have unintended consequences, like more cost and more complexity and will not help attract a single worker.”
Brynn Bourke, interim executive director of the BC Building Trades, saw the change as a long time coming.
“It’s really exciting to see the government take this step as I have known people in the system whose apprentice journeys were profoundly affected when compulsory trades were ended,” she said.
Bourke explained in 2003 the government gutted the whole system by slashing funding, closing offices and laying off apprentice counselors.
“They left an 18-year legacy of a system that has let workers down,” said Bourke. “It is not going to be easy to put back together, but we see the announcement as a good first step. We are very supportive that there will be a dialogue with industry to talk about what this looks like going forward.”
Bourke added she believes the entire process has included robust consultation with a broad group of representatives.
“This is a policy that makes sense economically in terms of preparing for our skilled trades shortage,” she said. “It creates the investment confidence to come to B.C. And for me it’s also about the worker and giving them the keys to a career where they are fully skilled, make a good wage and have a lifetime of work ahead of them.”
Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said in a statement this move by the government may restrict the labour pool and slow economic recovery.
“We have yet to hear a compelling reason for making the skilled trades in B.C. compulsory,” he said. “The construction industry in B.C. has proven it operates just as safely and productively as every other jurisdiction in Canada without compulsory trades, which makes us question the rationale.”
The first 10 trades to be a part of the new system are:
- mechanical: gasfitter Class A and B, steamfitter/pipefitter, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic and sheet metal worker;
- electrical: powerline technician, industrial electrician and electrician (construction); and
- automotive: heavy-duty equipment technician, automotive service technician and autobody and collision technician.
The province stated that certification for these trades will be implemented after a consultation process with the public, industry and workers.
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