Journal of Commerce, by Peter Caulfield, August 14, 2015
apprenticeship in bc

B.C. construction industry organization heads are divided on the effectiveness of the provincial government’s new Apprentices on Public Projects policy, which came into effect July 1,2015.

The government initiative will require contractors working on public construction projects that contain at least a $15 million government investment to sponsor apprentices through the entire project cycle and report on their on-project use before they receive their final payment.

“I believe the government’s plan to require contractors to hire apprentices is unnecessary,” said Jack Davidson, president of the British Columbia Road Builders and HeavyConstruction Association.

“Labor market forces will dictate the amount and type of training contractors need to be involved in.”

He said the government should take a different approach.

“Government would do better focusing on helping individual industries develop industry-designed training that fits their specific needs, rather than trying to support training using only the apprenticeship model,” Davidson said.

Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C., said the best thing the B.C. government can do to increase the number of trained construction workers is to make sure there’s plenty of work.

“The province should stick to doing its utmost to attract investment to B.C.,” he said.

“Once there’s work for it to do, the construction industry can go out and hire the people to do it.”

The governments new initiative won’t work, he added.

“The construction industry isn’t blind to the demographic challenges it faces,” Hochstein said.

“But, the way to solve it is to have lots of work that will attract more workers, some of whom can be apprenticed.”

The government states its policy aims to ensure British Columbians are trained to fill the million job openings, almost one-half of which are in the skilled trades and technical occupations, that are expected between now and 2022.

It said the legislation will also help meet the labour workforce requirements of private sector projects, citing the recent agreement between the province and Pacific NorthWest LNG that might result in a $36 billion investment.

Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, said the government has not set a quota for apprentices on job sites.

“We recognize some projects lend themselves more to apprentices than others,” she said.

“By not arbitrarily setting a quota, it allows contractors to determine how to best hire for their jobsite.”

Bond said B.C. is reaching a tipping point, with fewer young people entering the workforce than older people leaving it.

“If projects proceed as planned and the retirement rate remains the same every year between 2019 and 2022, demand for construction trades workers will exceed supply by an average 2,000 jobs per year,” she said.

Tom Sigurdson, executive director of B.C. Building Trades, calls the government program a step in the right direction.

“The government doesn’t know the rate of apprentices on publicly funded projects, so the first year of the program will be about data collection,” he said.

“If the government finds the rate of apprenticeship is something like 25 per cent (the recommendation of the Premier’s LNG Working Group), then that’s good. But, if it’s much lower than that, it might have to offer incentives to contractors to hire apprentices or even penalize them.”

Gary Herman, CEO of the Industry Training Authority, says the government is leading by example.

“There are three sources of skilled construction workers,” Herman said.

“You can grow your own, poach them from another employer or import them from another country. If you grow your own, you’ll have more loyal employees.”

Herman said the government’s program will help to increase the supply of trained construction workers the province needs, but more still needs to be done.

“We need more employers to hire apprentices,” he said.

“Of every five construction employers today, only one employs apprentices.”

Manley McLachlan, president of the B.C. Construction Association, said the BCCA helped to develop the government’s policy.

“So we’re disappointed the government made a last-minute change that raised the threshold for trade contractors from $250,000 to $500,000,” McLachlan said.

“Raising the threshold reduces the number of targeted employers. We don’t see the change assisting the goal of  getting more employers involved in the apprenticeship system.”

McLachlan said the government’s policy covers only capital projects and it  should also include a requirement for public sector institutions to have apprentices on their staffs for maintenance and operations work.

“Thirty per cent of construction employers hire 80 per cent of apprentices,” he said.

“If every employer hired apprentices, we wouldn’t have a skills shortage in B.C.”