Business and labour criticize Industry Training Authority, but ITA boss points to record number of certifications granted in 2011
BY GLEN KORSTROM, BIV
BC NDP leader Adrian Dix wants to retool B.C.’s Industry Training Authority (ITA) so apprenticeship programs produce a deeper pool of skilled labour and unions have more say in training decisions.
“The major issue facing businesses today is a lack of skilled labour,” Dix said. “The idea that we should exclude labour from the equation doesn’t make practical sense for those programs. You need to involve everybody.”
Organized labour reps remain bitter that the BC Liberals scrapped the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) in 2004 and replaced it with the ITA, which was intended to be more responsive to industry needs.
ITAC included board representation one-third each from business, unions and government – a setup that some say resulted in gridlock. ITA has no such requirement for its board.
The Liberals conceived the ITA to be an umbrella organization that spends most of its funding on apprenticeships and subsidizing training at schools. It also buys industry intelligence from six sector-specific industry training organizations (ITOs).
But some private-sector employers say ITA board appointments are political and the ITA isn’t listening to what the ITOs are saying.
“ITAC wasn’t a better system,” said Danny Mott, who owns the 250-employee Mott Electric GP. “But the ITA was supposed to be an industry driven system. Instead, it’s been watered down so that ITOs are ad hoc groups the ITA only wants to hear from once a year.”
Mott also questioned the veracity of ITA data, including claims that 32,000 people are currently registered and training as apprentices.
But ITA CEO Kevin Evans said the ITA does listen to ITO members. He defended the ITA’s effectiveness by pointing to the record 7,000 certificates of qualifications granted last year.
Evans added that a key difference between ITAC and the ITA is that “ITAC was more of a push model. We’re a pull model.”
“In the push model, people say ‘carpentry is cool’ and there are 3,000 people in line to take carpentry even though the economy only needs 300. That’s not an effective use of training dollars.”
He said the ITA system knows that, for example, only 300 carpenters are needed because employers have hired that many carpenters within some theoretical period.
But Mott said the ITA’s approach promotes short-term thinking: “We have to look at apprenticeship over the longer term so we don’t need to suddenly panic when we’ve got a shortage of labour.”
B.C. and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council executive director Tom Sigurdson agreed. His main beefs with the ITA are that: unions are on the boards of only two of the six ITOs and are not represented as a full partner in all decision-making; tradespeople like plumbers, gas-fitters and electricians aren’t required to be either certified workers or apprentices in order to work; and it fails to mandate that all contractors bidding on government projects (municipal, federal or provincial) must demonstrate that they have apprentices in their workforces.
The result of the current system, Sigurdson said, is unionized companies have a 90% completion rate for apprentices; non-union employers have completion rates at or below 40%. But neither he nor Mott wants Dix to scrap the ITA, only to tweak it.
“The weakening of the apprenticeship programs and the narrowing of the skills that people get through that system has not, on balance, served most people very well. Nor has it served the economy.”
First published in Business in Vancouver, issue 1175.
From Next June/2012