Shift. Build. Grow. B.C. on the cusp

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Aaron Smith, Apprentice Sheet Metal Worker. [Photo: Dave Silver Photography / BCCA]

On June 17, the federal government announced its agreement to let Enbridge build its Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board and further talks with aboriginal communities. This moves Enbridge one-step closer to getting access to the Pacific coast, and B.C.s construction sector one-step closer to major opportunity.

For some time, the BC Construction Association (BCCA) has challenged B.C. industry and government to grow the skills capacity to build a new industry amidst booming resource, industrial, commercial and residential construction sectors.

Light is beginning to shine.  Both the federal and provincial governments have recognized the need for more skilled tradespeople: the B.C. government released its Skills for Jobs Blueprint and began an overhaul of the Industry Training Authority.  The federal government’s new Canada-BC Job Grant is forcing the country into a new model to support increased development of in-demand skills in trades and technology.  The focus on demand side is correct, but requirement of increased employer contributions is misguided. We’ll see where it lands.

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Dean Baumeister, manager/co-owner, and Will Debolt, technician, at Dalco Parts & Service, Fort St. John [Photo Credit: Dave Silver Photography / BCCA ]

The BCCA will continue to advocate strongly on behalf of construction employers who already contribute significant resources to supporting apprentices and employees, as well as government tax coffers.

While the new federal and provincial plans rightly emphasize industry collaboration, data-based decision making, and accountability, until there is action, there is no outcome.

The BCCA focuses on three levers: demand-driven sourcing for skilled workers and apprentices from B.C., sourcing skilled, specialized journeypersons for roles which can’t be filled domestically, and the broader culture shift that is required to re-kindle interest in the trades in our children and youth – and their parents. There is progress on all fronts.

Demand driven sourcing

At home…

When direct connection is made to the demand side, jobs get filled. We’ve been operating the Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP) this way since 2006, connecting over 8,000 British Columbians to skilled trades careers.  We actively source non-traditional workers, and with 68 staff in the field making thousands of points of contact with employers each year, we are operating the most connected, successful, and effective HR program this industry has ever seen.

STEP specialists network via 13 offices around the province, including six in B.C.’s north. This program has no fee and there is no better resource for sourcing skilled labour and apprentices.

And away…

The BCCA also addresses the need for experience with our Foreign Skilled Workers B.C. service.  Canadians are slowly beginning to recognize the critical difference between low-skilled hospitality jobs and the highly skilled, specialized jobs in the construction industry.

Each journeyperson opens the door for at least two Canadian apprentices and four-to-six entry-level Canadian workers.  It’s important to get past the emotional jargon and focus on the opportunity at hand – therefore, we help B.C. construction employers to source this expertise even when we’re not able to find it at home.

Photo: Dave Silver Photography / BCCA]

Photo: Dave Silver Photography / BCCA]

Cultural Shift

Even with a youth unemployment rate of 14.5 per cent, only about 1,400 B.C. high school graduates choose to enter the trades directly out of high school. To fill B.C.’s shortage, that number must be closer to 10,000 – 20 per cent of our grads, and a seven-fold increase over current rates, which started June 2014.

The B.C. government’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint aims to the number of B.C. students entering the in-demand trades at the right time.  The Blueprint also identifies a greater need for industry collaboration and data, and increased support for post-secondary trades training – important keys to successful shifts in how British Columbians think about a future in the trades.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote: “We have gone from the Iron Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age to the Talent Age, and countries that make it easy to draw in human talent will have the advantage.”

As a society, we need to change how we are educating and motivating our youth.  As employers, we need to think about our responsibility to our sector.  And as leaders, we need to stimulate a cultural shift that recognizes the value of the skilled trades.

It will take continued collaborative effort to successfully leverage the opportunities in front of us. Employers, universities, colleges, government, and industry are engaging each other in tough conversations about their collective future success: Join in.

 

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