Friday July 25, 2014


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Filling in the trades gaps

William Stodalka

Pam Eales, Northern Lights College trades and apprenticeship coordinator, and Riley Muise, a millwright student, chat next to machinery used to train millwright students at the college.

A provincially funded plan has suggested some solutions to northeastern B.C.’s labour shortage.

As part of the provincial governments jobs plan, a plan was made for both the northwest and northeast portions of B.C. about their labour shortage and how to address them.

The plan was made with the help of educators, industry, and First Nations groups, according to a B.C. government press release. It was released late last month.

“Each regional skills training plan focuses on aligning existing training programs to local jobs, and will help people take advantage of the significant economic development opportunities that exist in northern B.C.,” according to the release.

Thousands of new jobs are expected to come into the northeast, many of them requiring skill training.

Pam Eales, the trades and apprenticeship coordinator at Northern Lights College, said that this will have to come from training new people to fill those gaps. She was one of the many people from around B.C. to contribute to the plan.

The report states that while the training supply may be adequate for some of these positions that are highly in demand – including heavy equipment mechanics, welders, plumbers, and construction electricians – others are not.

The report goes on to say there may be more need for millwrights, industrial mechanics, steamfitters-pipefitters, and other types of positions than local trainers can provide.

Eales said that the province would need to identify which of these traits training gaps can be filled by private individuals, public schools like the Northern Lights College, or other avenues to fill these areas.

“Is there a way that we can partner with another institution, or we can partner with another institution to offer that here (at Northern Lights College)?” she asked. “Is there a way we can get that training gap filled?”

Some businesses also find it difficult to release some apprentices that only have some training in order to get more training so they can do other types of jobs that need to be filled. The report states that the province has found that close to three quarters of apprentices currently employed by local businesses have only completed early stages of in-school training.

“In some instances there's not enough journeymen out there to take on apprentices,” Eales said. “There is just so much work going on it's never a good time to send someone to school.”

Jeff Beales, an Aboriginal relations advisor for Encana, said that this has had a negative effect on business.

“With the unemployment rate extremely tight … people can't afford to let their apprentices go, or they don't want to. “They need to have an alternate person to fill that gap while training is off for six to 10 weeks.”

Eales also said that some jobs, such as certain oil and gas skilled operators, do not have a trades designation, which can cause problems for potential employees who have received training in this field. While one company may want their employees to be skilled in one area, another may want them to be skilled in another area.

“We try and build some programs that will meet the needs of our region … (but) there’s no provincially endorsed recognition,” Eales said. “We want to make sure there are a commons set of competencies.”

Beyond the issues associated with training these individuals, more individuals are also needed to begin training to help fill this labour gap, the plan states. It calls for more participation from youth, older workers, women, and Aboriginal peoples in industry.

One of the solutions proposed by the report is for the province to explore region-wide information programs about high-demand occupations to students, similar to those already done in Alberta.

Another possible way to help address the labour shortage the report suggests would be to expand the Targeted Skills Shortage Pilot Program. The program helps low-skilled workers in some businesses pay for tuition and study materials. The report calls for more people to be allowed into this program.

Beales said that industry would generally support this position.

Beales also suggested that industry is looking at changing how apprenticeships are done to help fill the labour gap.

“We're also looking to streamline some of that training so it's more competency based, and we're trying to develop projects to speed up that apprenticeship training,” Beales said. “The idea is that more evaluations are done on their practical experience before hand so they can jump a grade if you will.”

In addition, the plan calls for changes to NLC to help meet this labour gap.

“NLC and other training providers could facilitate pre-apprenticeship training (e.g., safety training courses in high schools, WHMIS) and workplace skills training,” the report states. “A project could explore the possibility of a dual certification program (e.g., Pipefitter and Millwright).”

Eales said that before this is done, the Industry Trades Authority, which regulates apprenticeships, would have to allow more dual certification programs.



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