Building the Trades that Build BC

How the Industry Training Authority and CEO Gary Herman are preparing the next generation of skilled labourers

In the wake of the 1980s push to get young people into university in North America, trades have largely gone ignored. Today, however, graduates exit school and enter a highly competitive job market while a resource boom in British Columbia has industry scrambling for qualified tradespeople. The province is experiencing what some have called the paradox of “too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people.” That’s why Gary Herman, CEO of a Crown corporation called the Industry Training Authority (ITA), says it’s time for a mind shift back to apprenticeships and skilled labour.

The agency partners with industry, companies, and employees to coordinate training programs, facilitate apprenticeships, and issue credentials. Its work complements the provincial government’s BC’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint, published in April of 2014, with a mandate to develop a skilled workforce that keeps pace with growing industry.Herman describes British Columbia as a rich and unique province. “We’re on the cusp of a development boom,” he says. “We have many natural resources, and on top of that, we have liquefied natural gas (LNG) coming and a revitalized shipbuilding industry. We’re not totally dependent on one natural resource.” With the boom coming, the province needs qualified workers to fill the jobs that are coming with it—and training those workers is the mission of the ITA.

Just how much growth do experts predict? Analysts forecast one million job openings by 2022. Two-thirds of those will come as baby boomers leave the workforce; the other 320,000 represent growth jobs in LNG, forestry, mining, construction, shipbuilding, and other similar areas. “We have to respond to the changes out there,” Herman says. “If we need 3,000 welders by 2017, for example, it’s ITA’s job to deliver the skills to meet the demand, or we’ll be left with a worsening skills mismatch. Some who attend university may end up working a nominal job outside their field.”

Now the ITA is working with employers and the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training to study labour-market information models to determine what the high-demand jobs will be. Then Herman and his peers will confirm the findings with industry and work with training providers to fill positions successfully.

Pushing Provincial Progress: How ITA will grow BC’s trades

Engage industry
The ITA has identified 10 sectors and is creating sector advisory groups that will ensure the agency understands evolving needs and stays connected to changes in each industry. In doing so, its programs will be strengthened across the board as ITA employees equipped with data respond accordingly.

Align training investment
As the ITA works with other ministries, it engages employers and civic leaders to learn as much as possible about labour demands. Then the group uses that information to make better-informed financial decisions that match dollars with shifting labour trends.

Improve mobility of apprentices across Canada
Canadian workers with a Red Seal or Certificate of Qualification have labour mobility across the country, but apprentices sometimes find it difficult to relocate when the market dictates a move. The ITA is working to introduce apprentice mobility standards and harmonization with other provinces and territories that will address this challenge and bring new opportunities for apprentices across Canada.

Improve outcomes
As more analytics become available, the ITA is harnessing technology to examine key performance indicators as the Crown corporation rebrands, promotes youth programs, and launches a new digital strategy designed to improve internal communication and external customer experience

It’s challenging work—British Columbia has about 100 trades and more than 39,000 registered apprentices. But despite the sizeable task ahead, Herman is predicting success. “We have numerous government ministries working closely together, and things are moving in the right direction,” he says. With the release of the Skills for Jobs Blueprint, which coincided with ITA’s provincial mandate review, the agency is working with its counterparts to repurpose funding dollars. The provincial government currently delivers $7.5 billion in funding a year for education and skills training, with $94.4 million going to the ITA, and 83 percent—or $70 million—going to training providers. Herman has to make sure those training dollars go to programs that develop the workers for the right sector at the right time, always keeping in line with industry. Additionally, the ITA sits on a board with deputy ministers to discuss funding goals.

Herman, who came to the public sector in 2013 after 34 years in industry that began in the trades, says the model of collaboration is a unique one that he knows will produce the best results for the province.

“The trades have a lot to offer,” he says. “A trade isn’t a job—it’s a career. In the history of British Columbia, there’s never been a better time to be considering a career in the trades.”