Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 earlier this year won an award from Electricity Human Resources Canada for its Training Trust Fund, a program that offers members continuing education opportunities in a variety of areas including essential “soft skills” – the first time a union has earned the prize.

Fredericton, New Brunswick, Local 37 leaders accept their award from Electricity Human Resources Canada for its Training Trust Fund, the first for a union. Pictured: Jim Kellett, EHRC chair; Cathy Lerette, board member; Michelle Branigan, EHRC CEO; Ross Galbraith, Local 37 business manager; Ali Heighten, Local 37 education coordinator.
Photo credit: Electricity Human Resources Canada

“It means a great deal to win this award,” said Ali Heighton, Local 37 ‘s fund program coordinator. “It solidifies the fact that we’re providing relevant, industry-leading training to our members.”

At a ceremony held on Feb. 21 in Toronto, Local 37 was awarded the 2018 Innovation in HR Practices Award of Excellence for an Educational/Training Institution. The accolade was established in 2013 to recognize and celebrate one organization each year that has developed or implemented curriculum, educational or training programs to ensure that employees have the required skill sets needed by employers, said EHRC CEO Michelle Branigan. And that’s especially important considering the rapid changes taking place in the electrical industry.

“Knowing that it is not enough to react to these changes and that technical skills alone will not be enough to be truly effective and competitive in the workplace, Local 37 identified the need to pro-actively support and encourage on-going training and development activities that contribute to success in the workplace and career development,” Branigan said. “That is fantastic leadership.”

The fund was established in 1989 with government assistance, but it has been supported since by contributions from both members and their employer, New Brunswick Power.

“A lot of employers are tightening their belts right now, and that’s no different with NB Power,” said Local 37 Business Manager Ross Galbraith, who is also a member of the IBEW’s International Executive Council. “It says a lot about the strength of our relationship and our shared commitment to our members that they’ve continued to support these training initiatives.”

The fund provides a variety of educational choices designed to meet the needs of all Local 37’s occupationally diverse group of 2,200 members, who range from lineworkers to scientists and engineers. The shared educational thread is that the training goes beyond essential skills to cover topics like conflict resolution, communication, leadership and even mental and physical health.

“It’s the secret sauce that goes into the workplace,” Galbraith said. “We all need to be able to work well with each other and we want to equip our members with all the tools to do so.”

The fund is governed by a board of trustees comprised of representatives from Local 37 and NB Power. Along with seminars and tuition reimbursement for self-directed learning, the fund runs an annual conference, with themes often aligned to initiatives promoted by Local 37 and the utility. Two years ago, the conference focused on the IBEW Code of Excellence, and NB Power also allowed employees to attend supplementary Code sessions on work time.

This year, the fund sponsored NB Power’s 2019 ‘Safety Meets,” which featured a keynote by Dr. Bill Howatt, a behavioral scientist and one of Canada’s leading experts on workplace health. It’s part of the utility’s adoption of what’s called a Total Health framework that looks at the four pillars of healthiness: work, life, mental and physical.

“We hope that by offering education and training in these areas, we can help reduce some of the mental health problems our members may be going through, reduce stigma and allow for our brothers and sisters to work in a place where they feel confident that both their employer and their union supports them and will be there for them,” Heighton said.   

Annually, about 400-500 members access the fund in some form, Heighton said.