Risk of apprentice shortage looks positive for students

Trades students can expect high demands after grad

With the upswing of the economy and large projects coming online in B.C. and over Canada, businesses are expecting a shortage of apprentices. Dean of Trades and Technology, Baldev Pooni, views this perfect storm as a positive for TRU students.

Normally, students will participate in their initial training certificates lasting the duration of six to nine months then depart into the search for apprenticeships. Unlike many undergraduate degrees, trade programs base student’s education on a combination of workplace education and formal training. Students on average take three to four years to achieve Red Seal status, allowing them a license to work across Canada.

“If the economy is not doing so well, then the employers might not be hiring as many people and there may not be as many people in apprenticeships. But then when the economy swings around, now you need people but you didn’t have the people coming through,” Pooni said.

Pooni suggests that businesses must look beyond the horizon to maintain a strong workforce to power the list of large projects across B.C.

“In order to supply qualified people, not only must you do that initial training but an employer must apprentice them and put them through their training program,” Pooni said,

Projects coming down the line within the province include the ongoing widening of the highways, the oil pipeline, the LNG Project in Northern B.C. and the expansion of transit lines to name a few.

“We not only need to replace the retiring people but we also need to have more people,” Pooni suggested.

This shortage is becoming a concern for employers as the lack of qualified people may impact the timeline of these large project; delaying or even halting completely.

“You almost have to project four years ahead as to what’s going to be happening then,” Pooni said, “This is not new to employers. Employers are looking beyond the horizon.”

Pooni suggests that the shortage is a result of a large number of retirements mixed with the high cost of apprenticing large numbers of students to fill these positions to a surplus.

To combat this shortage, TRU is working to build their program scheduling to flexibly fit ebbs and flows of seasonal work and facilitating communication lines with employers and apprentices.

“We’ve been in a good cycle in the last 20 years in British Columbia and a lot of people that may have otherwise retired have put off their retirement for when the time is good. Now we’ve got that perfect storm coming,” Pooni said.

In addition to keeping lines open between students and employers, Pooni believes that to keep interested in trades-driven careers, high schools must introduce first-hand experiences for students as young as grade nine.

“If people don’t look at these careers by the time they’re 16/17, they may have missed out on doing some of the prerequisites courses they could’ve done in high school to see a pathway this way. If they haven’t done that then post-high school they’re trying to do the upgrading so it puts them behind and costs more,” Pooni said.

Pooni is confident that TRU students will see success as this supply and demand.

“It’s like winding up a machine to get it going. It’s tough to get going and eventually it gets going then if something happens it has to slow down,” Pooni said, “This is the nature of this kind of work, but it’s really good that there is this kind of shortage because the salary will rise because they’re in high demand.”