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special news feature | Vancouver regional construction Association

April 12–18, 2016



EDUCATION: Industry gears up to attract apprentices What is the industry doing to fill the shortfall in skilled workers? Hayley Woodin


he best mentorship Randy Callaghan of PCL Constructors Westcoast ever got was in Whistler at a time when he was an apprentice just starting out in carpentry. “I was my journeyperson’s first apprentice,” said Callaghan, a field personnel adviser responsible for hiring, supporting and mentoring talent at PCL. “He had just gotten his Red Seal, and he was so passionate about his trade. He was teaching us things we weren’t even doing, just to show us. And all of a sudden his work ethic really spilled over into me.” That passion remains strong in Callaghan, who is a steadfast advocate of industry support for young workers. He attends career fairs, speaks to high school classes and promotes a workplace-wide culture of mentorship. Apprentices represent 25% to 30% of PCL’s workforce, and he says that’s the key to tackling looming labour shortages. “The most important thing we’re doing is hiring them,” he said. “There aren’t enough employers hiring first-years.” Thousands of openings are anticipated in B.C.’s construction

industry come 2024, and the sector is one of five expected to generate 56% of openings in technology and sciences over the same time frame, according to WorkBC’s British Columbia 2024 Labour Market Outlook. Last year, the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s education committee visited around a dozen Lower Mainland high school classrooms to build excitement around the many opportunities that currently exist or are imminent in the industry. “I started as a labourer and I really didn’t see an apprentice position as an opportunity that I had at that time,” said Niko De Marre, who speaks to students as part of his role as a director on the committee. “There are some myths out there that construction is a dead-end job.” The committee addressed the accessibility of trades with six teachers and 120 students at New Westminster Secondary School earlier this year. “It was very powerful,” said Karen Crosby, the school’s career programs co-ordinator. “They realized that there was a lot more to it – there was a lot more variety.” Introducing youth and young

adults to trades is a big component of what the industry is doing to attract apprentices. The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) runs Trades Discovery for Women, which allow students to try a trade over several days and fast-track their post-secondary application to that trade. “We’re seeing really strong enrolment in our constructionrelated technologies and trades,” said Wayne Hand, dean of BCIT’s School of Construction and the Environment. “One of the major things we’re promoting is the fact that work in the construction industry is a career.” This fall, BCIT will launch its first pilot under the Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training program, a federal project that explores ways of making it easier for apprentices to complete their technical training. BCIT’s first pilot will turn a second-year plumbing course digital, reducing by several weeks the time spent by apprentices in class and giving them the opportunity to complete a lot of their coursework online over evenings and weekends. In two years, plumbing, steam fitting, gas fitting and fourth-year refrigeration

will also be available online. “What that does is it allows them to stay working on the job longer and not have to step away from their employer in order to continue on with their apprenticeship,” said Hand. For that reason, such a program may make apprentices more attractive hires, and finding a job is the biggest challenge young workers in construction face, according to Christine Klar, the Vancouver apprenticeship adviser for the Industry Training Authority. Two years ago, Klar’s job didn’t exist. Today, she’s one of 15 advisers who answer questions that students, parents and employers may have about apprenticeship and retention. “The bottom line here is if you’re having a problem with retention, you need to look at the culture of your company,” Klar said. “If you have a culture of growing people, where people can learn through mentoring relationships, that’s a good place to work.” Fostering that culture of mentorship is the foundation of Western Pacific Enterprises (WPE). Ron Fettback, construction manager at WPE, works closely with the Western Joint Electrical Training Society and the Electric

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Joint Training Committee to ensure that skilled apprentices make up around 40% of his company’s staff. “We work closely with those two on the selection of apprentices and the mentoring of apprentices to bring them into the system,” said Fettback. According to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, hiring helpers and labourers as apprentices is a common practice of 52% of employers, and a new partnership between the BC Construction Association (BCCA) and LNG Canada may help encourage that practice. Launched late last year, the LNG Canada Trades Training Fund offers $1 million to cover 100% of tuition and book costs “almost exclusively to support employers who are hiring apprentices,” explained Chris Atchison, provincial manager of the BCCA’s Skilled Trades Employment Program . To date, nearly 200 students have benefited from the funding, and 40%-50% of them reside in the Lower Mainland. The program, like the federal Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and Apprenticeship Completion Grant, may help young workers choose to pursue careers in construction. •

Construction in Vancouver - Issue 1380  

VRCA's Construction in Vancouver Report; BIV Issue 1380; April 12th, 2016

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