PGAA on the front lines of fight to reform Alberta’s skilled trades regime
May 19, 2023 By Gary Porter, president, Provincial Glaziers Association of Alberta
The Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education (STAE) Act, proclaimed in July 2022, repealed and replaces the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Act. This document added to the Designated Trades and Restricted Activities (DTRA) Regulation. Both these proclamations were put together without industry consultation.
Effectively, there are no more compulsory trades but every trade that has an apprenticeship program is a designated trade and has a corresponding set of restricted activities. This has been a source of contention for the past few months with the Provincial Glaziers Association of Alberta (PGAA) and the Alberta Trade Contractors Council (ATCC). Many individual trade associations, along with the local and provincial construction associations, have been trying to meet with the minister and/or ministry staff to iron out some of the many issues therin.
Key among these issues are that, in 2020, at the onset of COVID, without consultation, all period exams were discontinued. No notice, no discussion, just discontinued. Also, per the DTRA, restricted trades can use only journeypeople, registered apprentices, or people “deemed qualified” as journeypeople (not deemed-qualified for apprentices), with no criteria for said qualifications. Further, the restrictions deal with commercial and residential trades and commercial and residential applications within a given trade, many of which, in the real world, at least for glazing, do not translate. These include the storage and handling of glass, which requires a journeyperson, a registered apprentice, or a person “deemed qualified.” This also includes the installation of windows in residences, either new or in renovation, which is typically facilitated by framers (mostly non-carpenters) or labourers, almost never completed by glaziers. Ratios are set at two apprentices to one journeyperson. Obviously, if all of these regulations were to be followed verbatim, there are cost and manpower impacts that could be very detrimental, particularly where there are contractual obligations that are already in force.
In speaking with the ministry’s officers, there is no current enforcement for the new regulations, but legislation is being prepared to be signed after the current Alberta provincial election in May and to commence by fall 2023.
As individual associations had started to get meetings with the Skilled Trades Ministry staff, many of these issues were being raised and on April 18, in Edmonton, Kaycee Madu, Minister of Skilled Trades and Professions, and some of his STAE team, including Deputy Minister Bev Yee, Assistant Deputy Ministers Mike Fernandez and Jackie Hammond, and others held an Alberta Industry Round Table on Transforming Alberta’s Skilled Trades and Apprentice System.
STAE acknowledges the role of skilled trades in our economy. However, the government had challenged them to upgrade the old Apprenticeship Industry Training (AIT) Act. STAE replaced AIT, without industry consultation. They are also working on identifying and bringing in new trades such as heavy equipment operators, tattoo artists, and others.
Some of the key issues they wished to address were industry labour shortages; transitioning youth and immigrants into the construction (and other) industries easier and faster; parity of esteem; and industry culture. The shortage of workers and the industry and technology evolving demands a higher skill level today and for the future, not the reduced levels that the government seems to advocate.
Parity of esteem is something that the Skilled Trades Ministry (STM) is working towards to add value to those considering the trades. Trade educations deserve the same respect as university educations. As such, new journeypeople will get a two-year diploma that will allow them to access colleges or university. This will be an uphill battle to get post-secondary institutions to recognize the new credit system. STM states that we need to do more to support tradespeople, once they are through their schooling. They also said that industry cultures are an area they want to have greater control over.
Comments were made that most trades (except plumbers and electricians) are not understood by teachers, the public, kids, etc. A careers task force report on career pathways (from Education Minister Legrange) was to be out recently. It apparently makes recommendations for all stakeholders. To move forward, based on labour shortages, we need resources and a plan, and this report lays out strategies that can lead to a plan. STM is working with Education on this. Surveys are showing that kids today may want to pursue a trade for five or 10 years, but not long-term. They currently cannot see a pathway beyond the field efforts in the trade. We need to find a way to deal with this, for the sake of longevity.
There was a big kerfuffle on the elimination of standard examinations. There were numerous comments on keeping the credentials up, despite the issue of the current labour shortage being a driver to lessen standards. An Alberta Red Seal ticket used to be something that you could take anywhere in Canada to work. Now it has become just a certification of excellence. Period exams were a quality check for industry and for AIT themselves. It seems that the post-secondary institutions have promoted removing period exams to reduce the stress on students. However, it was unanimously agreed by the industry representatives in the room that period exams, which build to a Red Seal exam, are good preparation to work in our often-stressful industry and a key tool to train skilled trades for the journey ahead. Later in April, Minister Madu sent an email stating that the period exams would be reinstated for the 2023/24 academic year.
The discontinuation of provincial and local apprenticeship councils (PACs and LACs) was brought up. Associations have been further disconnected from the STAE board, with these discontinuations. What replaces the links via the PAC/LAC? It was politely suggested that we get the PAC/LAC role back between employers, associations and the new board. Ray Massey, chair of the STAE board, promised that the board will deliver on this, by fall 2023. This is to be a better system with higher engagement. Apparently, the engagement with PACs and LACs, or the lack thereof, was why they were discontinued.
Weighting of practical, theoretical, and period exam marks was discussed. Another COVID change was that students used to have to pass all three sections, versus just getting a 65 percent average on the three (or two since COVID). Period exams engage the industry and we need to have more industry engagement. The government believes that the grading is unchanged, in the past few years. Yet, Red Seal pass rates have dropped down, while provincial grades have inched up. The pass rate has been lowered from 70 to 65 percent, and is now the average of the three areas, no longer do you need to pass all three. The gap between Alberta and other provinces has dropped. Industry’s concern is that we have lost the Alberta Advantage.
A major issue in our industry is that we have trained our people to take whatever training we tell them we need, when we tell them to, as long as we pay them to attend or have them on EI and we pay for the courses. The idea of micro-credentials was brought up to enhance training, elevate skills and to form a life-long learning program, similar to what other professions face, to keep up with ever-changing technologies. It is a good idea, but it starts with teaching apprentices that their four years of courses are just the tip of the iceberg in a lifetime learning program that they need to embrace if they want to stay current, get ahead and grow in their career. We need to ween tradespeople off of paid training as directed by their employers, into a path of a self-guided training – a continuous learning path, where they take responsibility for their own ongoing learning.
Micro-credential additions for more specialized training will need to be incorporated into the legislation. Much like professions, we need to make this a part of our culture. Soft skills like communication (and others) are far more important in today’s world, yet not considered in this new plan. We have to encourage and teach more transferable skills. The corporate ladder will never be what it was for previous generations.
Social media, being how most young people consume information, may be how to reach kids. Today’s young adult is seeking the path of least resistance and quickest riches. If this is what they are looking for, how do the trades respond? The government will be targeting funding to schools to ensure that they are addressing trades in the schools. No longer optional. Implementation is the key.
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