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More work to be done despite record number of apprentices: SkilledTradesBC

Grant Cameron
More work to be done despite record number of apprentices: SkilledTradesBC

A record number of apprentices signed up to learn a skilled trade in British Columbia last year. But with 83,000 jobs anticipated in various vocations over the next decade, there is still much work to be done.

That’s the bottom line in an annual service plan report for 2022-23 released by SkilledTradesBC, the Crown organization that uphold standards and advances the skilled trades training system in B.C.

“Our numbers show the relevance of skilled trades and how people value the careers,” says Shelley Gray, CEO of the organization. “We’ve just got to continue to build on that over the next few years.”

Enrolment of youth ages 16 to 26 in the skilled trades increased by 14 per cent, or 10,018 individuals, in the 2022-23 fiscal year and surpassed the eight-per-cent target. Total number of apprentices was 41,000, an eight-per-cent increase, while 1,492 Indigenous people entered the trades through underrepresented apprenticeships and 1,072 women also entered the skilled trades through underrepresented apprenticeships.

“It’s a record number for us and we’re also seeing it continue to grow this year,” says Gray. “It says something about just the relevance of apprenticeship in the province and the value that employers see in it. It also speaks to people seeing these as valuable and viable careers.”

Although construction demands in B.C. are expected to contract in the near term due to elevated interest rates curbing residential demand and work concluding on key major non-residential projects, the construction industry will still need to recruit new apprentices to keep pace with demands.

BuildForce Canada notes in its latest report more than 38,000 workers – or 20 per cent of the B.C. construction labour force – are expected to retire in the period between 2023 and 2032. By 2032, the industry could face a deficit of 18,700 workers unless anticipated recruitment is increased.

Trades at risk of undersupplying include boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, gas fitters, glaziers, heavy equipment operators, industrial instrumentation technicians, industrial mechanics, insulators, mobile crane operators, painters and decorators, powerline technicians, roofers and welders.

While a lot of large projects are nearing completion, Gray says there’s still a lot of infrastructure development in the works.

“When you take into consideration things like climate change impacts, whether it’s the atmospheric river or the fires, roads, bridges and highways, all of that has to be rebuilt and done. In B.C. in particular, there’s also the piece around the housing crisis and shortage, so all of it drives those numbers and rationalizes why those trades are in such demand.”

Across Canada and internationally, there is competition for workers which makes it challenging, says Gray.

To drive more people into the trades, she believes it’s critical to tackle the stigma associated with working in the various fields and promote the prestige and value of them as a viable career path.

With more immigrants coming into the country, it’s also important to have a system that recognizes foreign credentials and ensures newcomers can get into the trades faster, she explains.

As a result of the move to skilled trades certification in 2022, which makes it mandatory for workers to either be a registered apprentice or fully certified to work in specific trades, SkilledTradesBC has been increasing its outreach to employers and apprentices to support them through the transition. The volume of inquiries and requests has also increased as a result and the organization has turned to technology.

A new mobile-friendly website and self-serve customer digital portal has been set up that gives apprentices and employers access to their information and more self-serve functionality 24 hours a day seven days a week.

The organization continues to work with training providers to promote new ways of delivering training models to enhance the experiences of apprentices. Another five apprenticeship advisers have been hired, bringing the number to 25, to support apprentices, trades workers, employers and Indigenous communities.

Gray says SkilledTradesBC is trying to strengthen bonds with Indigenous communities and is collaborating with them to provide training where the live.

“We’re trying to go where they’re at and help them get some of the basic pieces of training so they can hopefully continue and move on over the course of a number of years to their apprenticeship.”

SkilledTradesBC is also focused on tackling the stigma associated with the trades and is reaching out to parents, teachers, school counsellors and others to educate them about the value of jobs in the various fields.

“Often, the kids are quite open and excited about the careers, but they hear something different from those people that have a strong influence on them,” says Gray.

“There is a place for everyone in skilled trades and we are excited to see a record number of diverse British Columbians exploring skilled trades as a means to support their families, build a successful career, and contribute to the communities that make this province our home.”

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