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B.C.’s training system model for Canada

Journal of Commerce - FINAL MASTER logo 021112

The C.D. Howe Institute has a clear message  — it’s time to scrap apprenticeship ratios if provincial governments want to train as many skilled workers as possible. The think tank recently released Access Denied: The Effect of Apprenticeship Restrictions in Skilled Trades found that provinces with tight restrictions have 44 per cent fewer workers in those trades than provinces that have no restrictions.

We know the success of the open training system running here in B.C. Critics consistently ignore the fact that the Industry Training Authority is graduating record numbers of skilled workers. British Columbia is already a leader in Canada, having scrapped ratios a decade ago.

The rest of the country could learn from us – and ensure our country meets its needs for skilled workers. ICBA President Philip Hochstein’s column on the topic appeared in the Journal of Commerce and is below.

B.C. on right track with apprentices

Critics of British Columbia’s training system for the skilled trades need to take a hard look at a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

Access Denied: The Effect of Apprenticeship Restrictions in Skilled Trades has a clear message – limiting young workers’ access to skills training through quotas or ratios means Canada will end up with fewer skilled workers.

In construction and other skilled trades nine out of 10 provinces have strict regulations on the number of apprentices a company can hire relative to the number of certified workers they already employ.

The C.D. Howe report offers a chilling glimpse at how these journeyperson-apprentice ratios are reducing the number of skilled workers available.

It found that provinces with tight restrictions have 44 per cent fewer workers in those trades than provinces that have no restrictions.

In other words, these ratios ratchet up skill shortages.

A great deal of handwringing happens coast to coast about getting young workers into the trades.

Governments make plans. Governments spend money. Governments offer grants. But, the fact of the matter is governments east of B.C. fail young workers because of the limits they place on apprenticeships.

As the C.D. Howe report highlights, provinces with journeyperson-apprentice ratios above 1:1 have 38 per cent fewer young workers.

Apprenticeship quotas are a thing of the past in B.C. – and scrapping set ratios of certified workers to trainees is a move other provinces need to take if they want to erase shortages of skilled workers.

The findings in the report make it especially strange that labour-left critics here in B.C. are calling for a massive overhaul of trades training because of the so-called failure of the system.

The solution? Moving to what other provinces are doing: Compulsory trades; more bureaucrats to oversee the systems; and the ratios examined in the report.

Simply put, the demands for change are wrong.

The training system changes that happened in B.C. since 2004 have been a wild success.

Last year the Industry Training Authority – which oversees apprenticeship in B.C. – issued 8,759 certificates of qualification. That was the highest in history – more than double the number of graduates under the old system.

One might suspect that the real force behind the push for change isn’t to increase skills training – it’s actually about increasing the labour left’s control of the system at the expense of training.

B.C. has the kind of open system the C.D. Howe report recommends. Our province should be proud of how it has torn down the barriers that keep young workers in other provinces from getting into a career in the trades.

Our province can build on this and can show other provinces how to get more people trained today for the jobs of tomorrow.

B.C. is ahead of the pack and now it’s our chance to help the rest of the country rebuild their training systems and get more people trained.

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