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Tanya Palson looks to boost Manitoba’s apprenticeship completion rates

Peter Caulfield
Tanya Palson looks to boost Manitoba’s apprenticeship completion rates

Tanya Palson, the newly appointed chairwoman of the Manitoba Apprenticeship and Certification Board, wants to boost the province’s apprenticeship completion rates.

“I say this often, but it’s worth repeating — We need to protect the integrity of the apprenticeship system,” said Palson.

“In the past decade we’ve seen some decisions, sometimes by the apprenticeship board, and sometimes through other legislation, that make it harder for apprentices to complete their journey to obtaining their Red Seal certification.”

Palson said there are too many disincentives for Manitoba apprentices to complete the required classroom work to complete their apprenticeships.

In addition, there are multi-year waitlists for a spot in classrooms at Red River College Polytechnic, Assiniboine Community College and the University College of the North.

“There are other ways to obtain a trade qualification, such as by accumulating enough work hours and then taking the test for your Red Seal, but this should be the exception and not the rule,” said Palson. “That approach was designed for career trades persons who hadn’t had any previous experience in the apprenticeship system.”

Tanya Palson
Tanya Palson

Palson said the Manitoba construction industry needs to ensure the quality of its training is maintained.

“We face mass retirements from the industry and rapid advances in technology, so we must keep the knowledge level of the workforce high,” she said.

Addressing low apprenticeship completion rates is an urgent priority that must be addressed immediately, Palson said.

“The whole point of apprenticing is to become a career journeyperson,” she said. “It means obtaining Red Seal or equivalent certification. Being an apprentice is not the job, it’s the training for the job.

“If someone is dedicated to their career, wants to be properly trained and become a professional, they shouldn’t face unnecessary barriers to get the certification – and the wages and benefits that come with it.”

Palson said many people in construction get hung up on the number of apprentices in the system. Instead, they should be focusing on the number of apprentices who have become certified journeypersons.

“Until we change our focus, the recruitment of new people and the retention of skilled labour is going to suffer,” Palson said. “Everyone in Manitoba construction is feeling the pinch of the current skills gap. Some trades are worse off than others, but no construction trade is at a healthy level of labour supply.”

Manitoba construction needs to change the way it is wrestling with its labour shortage problem, she said.

“We see things like micro-credential skills programs and introducing weaker apprenticeship supervision ratios,” Palson said. “Those are risky and short-term approaches. They might work to fill a crew today, or for the next few years, but I worry what our skill set on the tools will be like 10 years from now.”

At the present time Manitoba construction has a solid knowledge base from career journeypersons with 20-plus years of experience to maintain a crew’s skill set at an “acceptable” level, said Palson.

“But once that generation retires from the industry, if the current trend continues, Manitoba will end up with a de-skilled construction workforce,” she said.

In addition to her position on the apprenticeship board, Palson is the executive director of Manitoba Building Trades.

It advocates for the province’s apprenticeship and certification system “from a worker’s perspective,” as Palson put it.

“But there are also a number of contractor associations,” she said. “We could all be doing a better job of educating the public and the governments of the day about our respective and different apprenticeship requirements. “The workforce needs of ICI construction require very different strategies and investments than our homebuilder and roadbuilder counterparts.”

Palson said much of what she proposes, as well as some of the legislative and regulatory changes the province is starting to see under the new Manitoba government (elected October, 2023), will not be received with open arms by industry contractors.

“But I strongly believe that gaining wins for business on the backs of losses for labour is not good for the industry in the long-term,” she said. “If contractors are not working, then my members aren’t working. We have different approaches, sure, but no one wants to hurt the industry. That would be hurting ourselves too.”

Palson was appointed to her position in February by Jamie Moses, Manitoba’s minister of economic development, investment, trade and natural resources.

The other new appointments to the board are Aarti Sharma, Ronald Castel Sr., Warren Herntier, Glenn Laycock and Chris Taran.

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