SCHOOL’S IN: Recruitment drives debate

Jane Muskens touches on the issue of training and the economy

There was a lot of buzz last month when the B.C. Construction Association announced they were returning to Ireland to hire 600 people – mostly tradespersons qualified to work in the construction industry as carpenters and framing carpenters.

What created the buzz around this issue is that many disagree with this recruitment drive. Unions in particular say there are enough Canadians to fill these positions.

From what I can gather there seems to be two issues at play here.

The first is the anticipated shortage of construction workers, which is based on statistics reported out by the provincial government. According to the government they expect roughly 150,000 construction job vacancies between now and 2023. This shortage was supported by the B.C. Construction Association in their annual assessment of 30,500 jobs that were not filled in 2012.

The other issue is not as simple and is related to unemployed construction workers in the province and in the rest of Canada. In some cases, there has been a reluctance among employers to hire apprentices. This in particular has been a long-standing issue in B.C. where some employers would rather hire a Red Seal certified tradesperson as opposed to investing in apprentices to fill positions.

From what I can gather it takes some work, by the employer, to provide apprentices with the training and hours they need to write their Red Seal exams, but the investment provides employers with employees who are trained and educated to best suit them. This is why you will find many employers who are more than willing to take on apprentices.

The construction boom in the North complicates matters more. Some employers outside of northern B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan can be reluctant to invest in apprentices who will often leave to take on higher-paying jobs outside of the area.

And lastly, there tends to be an issue around education in Canada. Overall, our high school students, in comparison to other countries such as Germany, don’t see the trades as a viable career option. Now, this has been changing somewhat in the schools. Counselors are more adept at recognizing students who might be well suited for the trades, students are completing dual credit programs at many colleges in trades training programs while they complete their high school diploma, and wages for Red Seal certified tradespersons are very competitive and attractive to young people.

Although some workers from Ireland may end up in Canada, not all will stay and I doubt they will make a huge dent in the worker shortage.

Opportunities to enter this industry will be varied and I suspect many options will be available to those who want a well-paying job with good job security. Right now it only takes six months to get your level 1 technical training credit and 450 hours towards your carpentry apprenticeship.

Anyone interested in the construction field could begin their training in February as Okanagan College is offering its Residential Construction program in Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton and Salmon Arm. This means if you take this program you will be ready to work by the end of July – on the way to a career with very good long-term prospects.

Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College. Comments can be forwarded to