The return of skilled trades certification to British Columbia after being put on the chopping block nearly two decades ago has been a cause of celebration and concern for construction industry leaders.
“This has been a long time coming. The elimination of skilled trades certification in the early 2000s was a massive blow to the construction industry,” said Brynn Bourke, executive director of the BC Building Trades.
Bourke saw the program as a way to right a wrong that had been committed against apprentices when compulsory certification was removed in 2003.
“When certification was cut there was a whole generation of apprentices caught midstream who were really harmed with the dismantling of trades training,” she said.
“I personally know apprentices who were on a regular three/four-year pathway to their Red Seal who ultimately ended up having to take eight years to get their ticket and some people were dropped altogether as apprentices.”
Bourke said the certification program brings more glory to jobs that deserve it.
“For me, this is really an acknowledgement that these trades are highly skilled careers. It restores prestige back to these trades and it’s how we are going to restore confidence back into the industry and draw people back.
“These are jobs to be proud of.”
President of the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) of B.C., Matt MacInnis, was supportive of the introduction of certification, with three of the 10 trades now requiring certification being electrical.
“We want to ensure that appropriately trained professionals, journeypersons and apprentices are the people who are doing electrical work in British Columbia,” said McInnis.
The 10 trades that were chosen include construction, industrial and powerline electricians; refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic; gasfitter A and B; steamfitter/pipefitter; sheet metal worker; heavy duty equipment technician; automotive service technician; and auto body and collision technician.
The concern that we have is the impulse to overregulate something that doesn’t need that,
— Paul de Jong
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
The ECA is “supportive of measures to ensure that electrical work is done safely,” MacInnis said.
But, he added, certification alone will not improve the number of people who complete apprenticeships.
“I don’t think the certification matter will do much to address the potential glut that we do have in British Columbia of people waiting to get access to a particular year of training,” he said.
“The ECA, and I’m sure other trade associations, would like to see the government continue to invest additional resources into our trades institutions so we can increase the number of seats and subsequently increase the number of apprentices who are in and successfully moving through the system in a timely manner.”
A business case written by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training claims, through research conducted by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, that the apprenticeship completion rate of 45 per cent in B.C. will hardly change due to certification though more people will enter apprenticeship programs due to an increased perception of prestige.
Shelley Gray, chief executive officer of the newly created SkilledTradesBC (formerly the Industry Training Authority), which oversees the program, said with the implementation of certification her organization will also focus on ensuring people have access to apprenticeship programs.
“We’ve invested over $5 million over the next three years, starting this year, to help address the waitlists that may exist in some of the institutions. That, itself is certainly going to help,” she said.
Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said the change could bring more red tape and restrictions than it would benefits.
“The concern that we have is the impulse to overregulate something that doesn’t need that and causes more harm for employers while it doesn’t necessarily move the bar for apprentices to become interested in the trades,” said de Jong.
The business case supported de Jong’s concerns surrounding labour supply.
Based on a number of factors, the case concluded “skilled trades certification will decrease the trades labour supply in the short-term.”
It states the construction industry will feel this supply shortage the most as 34 per cent of trades recommended for certification are involved in the industry.
But Gray said the program has been designed to reduce immediate impacts on labour shortages.
“The trades that have been introduced were thoughtfully considered to make sure they were trades that already had high numbers of people going through the system, so there is not going to be a significant increase in demands,” said Gray.
De Jong also expressed concern about the consideration given to employers when the program was implemented.
“Because the employers are the ones who end up providing on-the-job training. The employers are the ones who determine the individual’s capability to perform certain functions at work,” said de Jong.
Gray emphasized the benefits to employers.
“Part of the message we need to get out there is how it benefits you as a business owner to have people that are certified and trained in the work that they do,” said Gray.
The business case states the change will be economically beneficial for employers, citing a 2009 report that found every $1 invested by a business in apprenticeship results in benefits of $1.47 and that third- and fourth-year apprentices provide net benefits against wages.
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