February 15, 2011
Skills shortage prompts Alberta to change apprentice ratio
The Alberta government has changed the ratio of the number of apprentices that a journeyperson can train to help prepare for the next cycle of growth in the construction industry.
“Changing the rules to allow more apprentices to be hired will significantly improve the industry’s ability to train more Albertans to regenerate our workforce and meet increasing demands for construction services,” said Stephen Kushner, president Merit Contractors Association.
Under old rules for most construction occupations, many trades in the province required employers to employ one apprentice for each journeyperson they have on staff.
However, some trades had a ratio of one journeyperson to two apprentices.
The Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training (AIT) Board changed the ratio to one journeyman to two apprentices in 37 additional trades.
The new rules came into effect on Jan. 31.
“We support the decision, because AIT went through a process of getting feedback from provincial apprenticeship committees for specific trades,” said Ron Harry, executive director for Building Trades of Alberta.
“The two-to-one ratio is okay, but it can’t be allowed to affect the training, the completion rate and the effective learning that we had under the one-to-one ratio,” said Harry.
Kushner said that during the last construction boom, complying with the old rules meant some companies were forced to fire trainees in the middle of learning their trade.
“The construction industry faced the absurd situation where Albertans wanted to work and learn a trade and companies wanted to hire them, but couldn’t, because of the rules,” he said.
This happened when there weren’t enough journeymen to supervise the apprentices.
The change brings Alberta’s rules in line with recent changes in Saskatchewan, but fall short of B.C.’s training regulations that do not stipulate the number of trades people required to supervise an apprentice.
Harry said the ratio changes are designed to meet the challenges presented by changing demographics in Alberta.
The Construction Sector Council predicts that there will be 25,600 retirements and the loss of 3,800 workers due to mortality in the Alberta construction industry between 2012 and 2018.
In addition, 23,700 new jobs will be created.
There will be an estimated 25,700 new entrants to the construction industry in this period, but these will not be enough to fill the labour force requirements.
The construction industry will need to recruit 27,000 construction workers from other industries, regions or countries to fill this gap.
“Long-term planning is needed to ensure we have journeypersons coming into the workforce in line with those that are retiring,” said Harry.
“The value the apprenticeship system has produced in Alberta must continue to be the creation of highly-skilled trade professionals.”
Historically, ratios have been used as a way to ensure quality on-the-job training.
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