The Campbell government is dismantling British Columbia’s well-established system of industry training. A year ago, the government announced an end to the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) — a four-cornered partnership of business, labour, government and education with a mandate to oversee and enhance apprenticeship and trades training.
In its place, the Ministry of Advanced Education appointed an employer-dominated transition advisory committee to develop recommendations for a new training system. In December, it released a draft discussion paper, written by ministry staff, outlining a proposed new model for industry training in B.C.
Cindy Oliver, president of the College Institute Educators’ Association of B.C., said her association has concerns about the compressed time lines and lack of openness and transparency in the consultation process, adding that the proposed training model “represents a radical reduction in the quality of apprenticeship and training programs and a degradation of the value of the apprenticeship credentials.”
Oliver said that narrow business interests will drive the new model — creating a system where labour is not involved in implementing apprenticeship and trades training.
According to CAUT executive director James Turk, the elimination of labour’s key role is contrary to accepted practice elsewhere and destroys a vital element in all successful apprenticeship and industry training programs.
“The new scheme has no clear accountability measures,” Turk said. “While the B.C. government says that an accountability framework will be developed, little work has been done in this area.”
Oliver noted the lack of concern about workers has also been a hallmark of the process and proposals.
“Although the government proposes that the new model ‘will be responsive to the needs of learners, employers and the marketplace,’ where are the workers in this new model?” she asked.
“You cannot address critical skills shortages without having workers in mind and at the table.”
While the government has provided an expanded role for business, there is no sign from business to increase its investment in training or increase its commitment to supporting apprentices.
Trades Will Be “De-Skilled”
Under the new framework, the government proposes to deconstruct existing trades and technical training in the name of flexibility. In place of recognized and comprehensive credentials that have been hallmarks of apprenticeship training, the government proposes that skills be recognized by “incremental” or “specialized credentials,” that demonstrate a partial completion of the skills needed for a trade.
“The move to a de-skilling of workers and the devaluing of trade credentials is a particular concern given the proposed partial credentials will fall short of the inter-provincial standard that allows trades’ credentials to be recognized in other provinces,” Turk said.
“One of the ways that government and industry have been able to encourage young people to begin apprenticeship programs is by pointing to the mobility that the ticketed trades provide. New partial credentials that will likely not be recognized in other provinces and countries will limit the mobility of B.C. workers and will lessen the attractiveness of the skilled trades.”
Like apprenticeship programs, Entry Level Trades Training, a foundation training program for those entering trades and apprenticeship in B.C., will be reorganized to include more online learning, shorter training periods and modularized curriculums.
The cost of education and training will be transferred to students and apprentices. Just as the Campbell government has done with students in universities and colleges, students who take trades training will now have to pay a much higher portion of the cost of their training.
Oliver noted there is no evidence the employer community is willing to assume greater costs in supporting its trainees.
“The system will remove support services for potential apprentices,” she said.
The government has proposed to close all ITAC offices by May 2003. Apprentices will have to identify employers and will be required to register training agreements on an Internet-based, self-registration system. Once registered, apprentices will be required to access, review and update their employment record, including information about technical training taken. Apprentices will also now be expected to schedule their technical training after discussion with the employer about timing and work priorities and register themselves for training programs — a function ITAC fulfilled.
The government acknowledges there is a risk involved in putting additional responsibility on learners to fund training and to make employment connections. Its discussion paper also identifies greater risk in the reliance on extensive coordination of action being undertaken by the main participants.
Oliver expressed special concern that while the government proposal offers little discussion of who will deliver training, it envisions more private providers.
“Government offers no meaningful rationale for this proposal and given that the oversight function of government will be dramatically reduced, further fragmentation of training may serve to weaken training outcomes and the development of a skilled workforce,” she said.
“We are concerned that the significant public investment that has been made in the capacity of our public college and institute system, which currently delivers most of the industry training in the province, may well be put at risk.”
There is also a fear that safety will be jeopardized by the erosion of effective enforcement of industry standards. Currently, legislation identifies compulsory trades — those trades in which only certified journey persons and registered apprentices may work. Now, the government is proposing to amend legislative requirements for mandatory training for apprentices in these trades.
Oliver says a significant worry is that consumer protection and public and worker safety may be put at risk in the rush to deregulate.