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November 2015

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British Columbia Locals Recognized for
Apprenticeship Training

Not all apprenticeship programs are created equally. This is something that British Columbia officials are learning, and they are turning to the IBEW to make sure they are done right.

Apprenticeship completion rates across Canada have averaged only 50 percent since 2000, according to a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Completion rates for IBEW apprenticeships, by contrast, are consistently well above 90 percent. As British Columbia sought to attract more business, particularly in sectors like liquid natural gas that require skilled tradespeople, the government realized that its apprenticeship programs weren't keeping pace. At one point, the completion rate dropped to 34 percent, said Victoria, British Columbia, Local 230 Business Manager Phil Venoit, who also serves as chair of the IBEW British Columbia council.

So they started looking for solutions and found them with IBEW.

"We took over where they failed," Venoit said.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark called for an investigation into the issue, which led to a report. Among the recommendations was to include union representation in the Industry Training Authority, the provincial body that manages apprenticeships, sets standards and increases training opportunities; and to create sector advisory groups as part of the Authority. Labour had previously been involved at the provincial authority level, but was removed in 2003. Now with the report calling for labour's return, and with a clear need for improvement in apprenticeships, Local 230, along with Vancouver, Local 213 and Nelson, Local 1003 were called in to share their expertise.

"They had defunded their apprenticeships. There was no staff or follow-through. Apprentices had nowhere to go after their first job," Venoit said.

By contrast, IBEW apprenticeships have support systems in place. There is a one-to-one ratio and apprentices get the supervision and mentorship they need. They monitor progress and completion, as well as aptitude, attitude and professionalism. Apprentices also provide a written report on their goals.

"We knew this was the future. We knew the importance of this continued investment," Venoit said.

Now four IBEW representatives sit on various sector advisory groups. Nelson, British Columbia, Local 1003 Business Manager Ray Keen sits on the construction committee, Venoit sits on the maritime group, Local 213 Business Manager Adam Van Steinburg sits on the manufacturing working group and Electrical Joint Training Committee Executive Director Andy Cleven sits on the liquid natural gas team.

"With IBEW representation on these sector advisory groups, which provide a 20,000-foot overview, we can suggest improvements and make sure that everyone who wants training gets it, and that the training is done as professionally and effectively as possible," Venoit said.

There are currently about 24 liquid natural gas projects that British Columbia is considering. There is also talk of a CA$9 billion dam. Estimates vary regarding the number of people needed. In any case, to get more business, there will be a need for more skilled tradespeople, and IBEW is providing the apprenticeships to make it happen.

"We approach it from the perspective of 'we can do better and we'll show you how,'" Venoit said. "We're not always the cheapest but we are the best."


Labour representation is returning to British Columbia's Industry Training Authority, led by the IBEW's Local 230 Business Manager Phil Venoit, left, who is chair of the IBEW British Columbia council; Ray Keen, Nelson, British Columbia, Local 1003 business manager; Adam Van Steinburg, Vancouver Local 213 business manager; with Local 213's Andy Cleven, Electrical Joint Training Committee executive director.