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BC BS: Province Removed Apprenticeship Mandate, Outsourced to Temps, Now Has Skills Gap

BC Building Trades President, Tom Sigurdson.

BC Building Trades President, Tom Sigurdson.

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British Columbia is facing a skills gap in the construction trades due to market growth and the looming baby-boomer retirement wave. B.C.’s municipalities, universities and colleges, schools, and hospitals (known collectively as the MUSH group) should be hiring more skilled labor apprentices to prepare for the vacancies, but according to B.C. Building Trades Executive Director Tom Sigurdson, that is not happening. He calls the new entrants numbers “horrible”:

When all apprentices at all levels are counted, the B.C.’s MUSH group numbers rose from 304 to 361 during the past year.

[…] “Contractors will hire an unskilled worker who is really doing the work that a first or second year apprentice should be doing,” he said, adding that employer can pay less and escape paying benefit. But, also individuals doing this work are not registered with any union or apprentice system and do not receive credit for their work hours. Utilizing workers in this way provides cheap labour for the company but does nothing to enhanced skill levels in B.C.’s workforce, he said.

This could leave B.C. scrambling to find skilled workers when the current crop leaves the workforce:

“We always need more employers to step up to hire apprentices,” agrees ITA BC’s CEO Gary Herman. “It is a situation that exists right across Canada.”

He said ITA BC figures show 37,000 registered apprentices in BC’s skilled trades training system and only 9,400 registered employer sponsors. Within the next 10 years, more than one million jobs will be available in B.C. with two-thirds of those created by baby-boomers leaving the workforce.

The reason British Columbia is being singled out? It is the only province in Canada to have eliminated compulsory trades that require work to be done by an apprentice or journeyman. This opens the province up to chearp, low-quality labor:

When the provincial government eliminated compulsory trades, many employers jumped at the chance to hire workers with little or no qualifications at minimum wages. This trend spread like wildfire through the residential and road construction sectors. But, when contractors in the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sectors tried to get in on the wage race to the bottom, they faced a unique challenge. Many ICI projects require skilled workers with significant technical training and take place in remote areas of the province. Owning a pair of work boots and a hammer simply won’t cut it.

Their response? Outsource:

Rather than face the reality that they should offer appropriate wages to attract skilled British Columbians, ICI contractors have taken to running an ad in a few papers with a low-ball wage. When no one steps forward, they apply for temporary foreign workers to fill the positions and pay them even less.

Sigurdson and co. have spent recent years trying to call attention to this issue. Maybe the MUSH fallout will raise some awareness of this troubling trend.


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