Industry stakeholders influence trade program design

Designing programs that suit employers sets apprentices up for success

Jessica Klymchuk, News Editor Ω

Dean of trades Lindsay Langill helped introduce the new front-end loaded program for commercial truck and transport mechanics on Nov. 19. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

Dean of trades Lindsay Langill helped introduce the new front-end loaded program for commercial truck and transport mechanics on Nov. 19. Jessica Klymchuk/The Omega

With six-figure salaries and spots open, industry stakeholders in trades are taking a leading role to make sure training schools are producing skilled apprentices in programs that meet their needs as well as students’ needs.

“Tradespeople earn upwards of $10,000 more per year than the average Canadian annual salary of $40,000, according to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum,” Cathy Gulli wrote in the Maclean’s 2014 Guide to Jobs in Canada. But she also says that the “financial incentive is due to the massive shortage of workers in the skilled trades.”

“Within the next decade, Canada will need to fill 319,000 construction jobs, 5,850 in oil and gas, 112,000 in mining and up to 77,150 in automotive.”

So how are schools connecting the students who want work with an industry that is increasingly desperate for skilled labour? Trades schools like TRU’s need to ensure that the skills students learn in school are in demand and up to industry standards.

“I’m not a believer that the training school like we are should just train for the sake of training,” said TRU dean of trades Lindsay Langill. “We need to be making sure that the students that we attract here know at the end of their time they are going to have a very good possibility of a job because we’ve done our homework.”

Langill said TRU’s school of trades and technology works to maintain relationships with industry and understand its demands so it’s not setting students up for failure once they leave to enter the workforce.

“What we have to be very sure of in our trades area is that we have industry fully engaged, on-board, participating in the conversations and going ‘yes, we support this,’” Langill said.

In August 2013, TRU launched a pilot program for commercial truck and transport mechanic apprentices that was directly influenced by industry stakeholders. The diploma of transportation and motive power front-end loaded program sees students completing their main block of classroom training in the first 61 weeks of school rather than over a period of four years and intermittent work.

The new program was developed after employers found they needed apprentices on the job site when they were required to return to school. Langill said the employers also want to attract students to their company earlier in their training and ensure they will return to the company. All in all, the program solved operational problems the employers were facing with their apprentices, Langill said.

The Transportation Career Development Association and the Industry Training Authority developed the new model. Four employers, BC Transit, Cullen Diesel Power Ltd., Inland Kenworth and Peterbilt Pacific Inc. sponsored 16 students who they hand selected an provided each with $10,000 worth of tools.

“The caveat there that I think makes the difference is we didn’t just accept 16 students into the program that showed up knocking on the door,” Langill said. “We suggested to industry that they go out in the areas where they have the need.”

At the announcement of the program on Nov. 19, TRU president Alan Shaver said universities need to be increasingly innovative to meet the needs of employers.

Langill said there shouldn’t be a dedication to traditional models, but rather a dedication to standards as well as student needs

“Let’s not get hung up on the model that everyone has to have,” he said.

TRU recently made the entire training for a parts person available online and worked with industry to design a 20-week program for power line technicians that has them in the classroom for 10 weeks and on the job for the last 10 weeks.

Because each of the 53 Red Seal trades take unique styles of training, the front-end loaded model wouldn’t work for many, as the block-release model wasn’t working for transport mechanics. Langill said electricians couldn’t be trained properly in a front-end loaded program, while pipe fitters could be trained in a partially front-end loaded program.

“At the end of the day, my message is one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “Thus, the whole reason I challenge the system.”