Thursday July 24, 2014



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Competing for the trades

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William Stodalka Photo

Jeff Beale works in Encana’s Dawson Creek office. He said that industry is competing with training providers for trades instructors.

George Bernard Shaw came up with the expression, "He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches." But that maxim is inverted here in the Peace Region, especially when it comes to skilled trades.

A recent report commissioned by the province wrote that trades instructors – who will teach the next generation of tradespeople and fill the local labour gap – are in short supply, as many are lured away by higher wages they can earn in the local market.

Last month, the province released the Northeast Regional Skills Training Plan, which describes the opportunities and challenges within the skilled trades of B.C. It describes a coming skilled labour gap, which will be acutely felt throughout B.C.

Part of its solutions would be to enhance programs for delivering instructions for high demand occupations to train more people in the trades. Training like this is offered by both private providers and by publicly funded institutions like the Northern Lights College (NLC).

"(The NLC) is in competition with industry," said Pam Eales, who works for the NLC as their trades and apprenticeship coordinator. "You're going to make more out in industry than you would here. It's hard to compete with industry when we can't offer that wage."

Both the NLC and the industry are also drawing from the same labour pool, since these trades instructors must have experience within the industry. As well, both of these partners are looking for Red Seal qualified technicians, which takes about four years of training and industry experience for someone to attain.

Eales could not give a specific amount to how much an instructor could make, saying that it would depend on how much experience he or she has.

Jeff Beale, who works as an Aboriginal Relations Adviser with Encana, said that an employee would work the bare minimum of 1,800 hours could expect to earn approximately $100,000 per year, possibly more.

He also said that given the labour situation within northeastern B.C., he expected that pay to rise.

“There's only so much you can really get away with paying,” he added. “It's a competitive market … unfortunately there's no funding formula in the college system to enable upscaling salaries in order to provide equivalence to what they're making in industry.”

Another challenge mentioned by Beale is the low unemployment in the region. According to information on the B.C. Stats website, that number was 3.8 per cent last October.

“There's nobody to fill your spot,” said Beale. “It just makes it awkward.”

Despite the higher wages present out in the field and the challenges, Eales said that there are still some perks that instructors enjoy that those in the field don't.

For example, the work is done indoors, and does not require the longer hours or outdoors work that a regular industry job would require.

"(The instructors) have done their job out there, and now they're ready to give back," said Eales. "They want to teach, it's a change in lifestyle."

The plan also suggested some ways that could change to provide more instructors.

“NLC benefited from having an instructor seconded from industry teach a course in a high demand occupation,” said the plan. “Training providers could explore opportunities to expand on this initiative and research other possibilities for meeting the demand for instruction.”

Beale also said that B.C. would have to look at other western provinces, including Manitoba, to look at how more instructors are being brought in.

The industry may want to look for instructors willing to work on shorter terms if full-term instructors cannot be found, he added.

Another solution could be more coordination between industry and schools. In some cases industry will sometimes set up in-house programs that “compete” with institutional programs when these programs are unable to schedule training when industry needs it.

However, more funding may be needed by the NLC as well.

“We would need more funding dollars in order to do something like that, to build capacity, if you're looking at new programs, instructors, curriculum, training aids,” said Eale.


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