As the Industry Training Authority of B.C. (ITABC) celebrates apprentice month, new entrants into the construction trades can look forward to a major technological revolution as Canada moves to a low-carbon economy bringing sweeping changes to all trade sectors.
“The greatest example is the electrification of cars,” said ITABC strategy and compliance manager officer Rod Bianchini pointing to a future where the fossil-fuel internal combustible engine is sidelined and new technical skills replace the traditional grease-monkey. “It is not your dad’s car you are going to be working on.”
That same technological change is happening in the construction industry, he acknowledged. The construction industry has a growing presence of commercial and industrial solar panels, geothermal heating systems, passive MURB construction, community heating districts, and new construction bio-materials such as cross-laminated timbers used in mid-rise structures.
In October, B.C. launched its CleanBC Roadmap to 2030, a game plan accelerating measures to mitigate climate change and introduces new ideas to achieve the Paris emissions reduction targets and reach net zero by 2050. The plan, which relies heavily on moving away from fossil fuels, requires that all new buildings be zero-carbon by 2030.
Entering the trades is often perceived as having a stigma or a lesser outcome for those who do not make the grade for a university education. Bianchini said it is an entrenched myth that ITABC has been working hard to dispel. ITABC information released from a public survey on recommending the skilled trades to youth found that 87% saw an accredited skill leading to a well-paying job while only 55% saw a bachelor degree leading to well-paying career. Ironically, “these same respondents were much more likely to recommend other youth, but not their own children, to consider pursuing a career in the skilled trades,” the ITABC information found.
Bianchini said trade careers have as much to offer as a university career. Certified and skilled journeymen can start their own company, work in a trade-related office position, travel, or use the revenue generated from working the trades to augment one’s education, such as university applied science to achieve a degree. Once individuals move into the trades, he said, it is not uncommon for a family legacy of tradesmen. The ITABC has also found children following parents or grandparents into skilled trades.
The ITABC is actively campaigning to draw in more trades people from all public sectors in order to fill a gap existing between the number of registered apprentices in B.C. which stands at 37,000 (with 7,600 youth program participants) and the 73,000 job openings in trades that will need to be filled through to 2029.
The pandemic and its impact on the job market are bringing some new entrants into the industry as the figure are showing more women, who make up 10% of apprentices, are entering non-traditional trades (construction, welding, pipe-fitting).
”Women in non-traditional and unrepresented trades are where we have seen the most resilience,” Bianchini said, as registration figures sparked a 30% rise in that category to date compared to the previous year. “That is a really strong number of us.”
“The pandemic has made a lot of people think — what does work look like for me?” he said, especially women who may have found themselves without employment from traditional jobs such as working in the hospitality industry, hairdressing, or in retail sectors, all of which were impacted by COVID. Such individuals, said Bianchini, would have seen that the construction trades (and other related trades) were deemed essential services and the paycheques continued flowing.
Although overall, new registrant numbers are still down because of the pandemic, but the ITABC is starting to see resurgence in numbers. It has recorded a 41% increase in over-all apprentice registrants in 2021 third quarter results compared to 2020 statistics, but the figures still show a 13% shortfall in apprenticeship registration figures noted pre-COVID for the same quarter.
The ITABC has 20 advisers throughout B.C. to advise and create a career path for new entrants wanting a trade career, he said. But the authority has also established a number of programs aimed at drawing in young people from high school, Indigenous communities, those wanting a career switch, or new immigrants.
The ITABC’s Indigenous training program is community-based and works with a First Nations group that identify a community need, or, is initiating a project that might lend itself to skills training and apprentice development. “The main premise is really understanding the approach needed from the get go,” he said, as the ITABC does not carry out training for the sake of training but wants to see the training lead to skills enhancement. Training provided can include foundation courses, trade samplers, levels 1, 2, and 3 in apprenticeship training or other specific needs. The training is carried out by private training facilitators. Currently 7-8% of apprentices are Indigenous; a figure that Bianchini sees can be expanded just as more women can be brought into the trades.
Bianchini said one of the outreach efforts by the ITABC has been to make presentation to immigrant societies which are aiding new Canadians to find work. Such sessions provide immigrants with the opportunity to enter the trades but also to draw out individuals with trade training from other countries that might be candidates for apprentice or journeyman certification under the ITABC’s trades’ qualification program.
Bianchini said that if individuals can provide documentation of the required hours worked in the trade and the employers and training received (all of which needs ITABC verified), the individual can challenge certification through exams. The process can also lead to gaining entry into various apprenticeship levels and support from the ITABC to enhance any learning areas needed to challenge a certification. Currently, the ITABC averages 230 trade qualifier applications per month.