The Reform of BC’s Industry Training System:

A Submission to Jessica McDonald, Independent Review Lead, ITA Review

The ITA Review

In August 2013, Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Minister Responsible for Labour announced the review of the Industry Training Authority (ITA).

The scope of the review is to include recommendations on improving and strengthening governance, strategic leadership of the system, outcomes, ITA’s service delivery model, and partnerships and engagement with educators, industry, private sector unions, and other stakeholders. Jessica McDonald was appointed as Independent Review Lead and the review is to be completed by the end of November 2013.

The announcement indicates it “will provide government with vital information that will help to ensure the province has a strategic, coordinated, and responsive industry training system that is achieving outcomes required to ensure employers and industry have the right number of skilled tradespeople at the right place and at the right time…”


ITA’s Role

According to its website, the ITA ‘leads and coordinates BC’s skilled trades system. ITA works with employers, employees, industry, labour, training providers and government to issue credentials, manage apprenticeships, set program standards, and increase opportunities in the trades.” ITA was established in 2004, and is a provincial crown agency and governed by a nine-person Board of Directors, whom have “skills, experience and qualifications directly related to the trades.”


Are Changes Needed?

While the ITA has been an improvement over its predecessor, the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) and the government-administered Apprenticeship Branch before that, as a former leader of, participant in, ‘student’ of and advisor to industry on BC’s industry training system, I believe the ITA model and trades training system are indeed broken.

This is not to ignore that ITA and the BC training system have made some improvements and possess some strengths, including well-intentioned professionals doing their best to make things work.

So what’s the problem? Here’s one example. According to government-sponsored research, the northern region of BC alone will need 3,200 qualified welders over the next 10 years. ITA spent just under $10 million on welder training in 2012. How many qualified Red Seal (national standard) welders did our industry training system produce that year? Less than 100 in BC or about $100,000 per Red Seal trained welder. The welder trade is a strategic occupation in our province and will be over the next decade of resource development, especially in the north.


Current Challenges

1. Governance 

Private sector labour and other non-employer groups have been virtually shut out from participating in the governance of the ITA and the BC industry training system. Most labour involvement is on the boards and in the faculties of training institutions; however, this is public sector labour – clearly a conflict of interest. The public unions represent college faculties and support staff that deliver trades training.

Also, the ITA governance often involves industry association representatives and not enough actual employers of apprentices.

According to its website, ITA’s Directors: “do not represent their own organizations or industries. Their role is to act in the best interests of ITA and its customers.” This fiduciary role is most appropriate but the Board can still be more balanced and diverse and have more trades employer participation without jeopardizing this principle.

2. Internal Processes

The ITA changes the rules and procedures for approving new programs and modifications to existing programs a few times a year. Its processes are slow and bureaucratic, and its direction is often unclear and/or contradictory. I weekly encounter employers, industry associations, unions, institutions, industry training organizations (ITOs) and others that express frustration with ITA processes, including slow response and decision-making times. Too much focus on ‘process’ and not enough on outcomes, they say.

3. Employer Engagement

Employer engagement has been left to the (ITOs), but ITA quickly reduced funding to ITOs that have now become ‘eunuchs’ in terms of not having the resources for necessary employer outreach. Employers are out of the loop and detached from the industry training system. Frustrated by changing rules, a lack of clear information, little progress and little support, employers and their associations are less and less inclined to hire apprentices. Imploring employers to “step up to the plate” alone is simply a platitude unless concrete engagement and support and more flexible training is introduced.

4. Industry Training Organization (ITO) System

The ITA created 7 ITOs in its first 3 or 4 years. They since disbanded a Residential Construction ITO and are left with 6 of varying sizes and governance models. It has continually changed the rules and funding for ITOs – the voice of industries. They have alienated the administration of all ITOs and left industries and employers feeling disconnected from apprenticeship. Some of the ITOs are the only true “industry-driven” part of the industry training system.

Whether intended or not, ITA has created an estrangement between it and the ITOs, the face of industry. Industries and individual companies have put a lot of time and energy into ITOs. This should represent a foundation to build on – with refinements – rather than to further marginalize ITOs.

5. Program Standards and Development Process

One of the challenges that faced ITAC throughout its short life was inheriting a very old and poor quality learning resources that had not been updated for several years.

ITAC had an internal program development unit that was tasked with working on this backlog. There was not a robust system or staff complement to get this job done. Also, it was hampered by an old system of over 50 Trade Advisory Committees that had to be involved in and approve any curriculum changes.

Now when the ITOs try to propose – on behalf of their industries – flexible, innovative training programs and certification that meet employer needs, their proposals get bogged down in the ITA process and the resistance of training institutions, who in turn claim they are underfunded and that they have many hoops to go through (e.g. Education Councils, committees, faculties, etc.) before they can commit to delivering modified or new programs. A case in point is a new welder apprenticeship training program that will have taken about 6 years to fully implement when industry representatives blessed it 2 or 3 years ago.

A new model of program standards development is needed with ITOs playing a larger and more strategic role on behalf of industry, and ITA playing a facilitative role through a clear, streamlined process.

6. Training Institutions

BC’s colleges and institutes deliver the bulk of pre-apprenticeship (“Foundation”) and apprenticeship training in BC. The post-secondary institution in Canada is one of the last remaining “institutions” to resist the real change that the rest of our institutions and economy have had to undergo. Administrations protecting their budgets and control, faculty instructors protect their collective agreements, and little leadership from the post-secondary Ministry around this means the ITA and ITOs are unable to make real change in how industry training is designed, structured and delivered in a cost-effective way.

7. Skill Shortages and Outcomes

The ITA and the training system are not keeping up with labour demand and show no sign of improving without reform. In BC, labour market economists project significant growth in job openings for several skilled trades as well as operational and professional positions. However, the industry training system is not producing. This is particularly the case in the “Red Seal” trades (49 in BC) that are recognized as the standard of national excellence by employers. For example:

–       BC will need 955 new concrete finishers in the next 10 years – 1 person achieved this Red Seal standard in BC in 2012;

–       BC will need 924 industrial electricians – 40 people achieved the Red Seal in 2012;

–       Industrial mechanic/millwright – We’ll need 2,575 and we got 128 in 2012;

–       Steamfitter/pipefitter – 3,589 needed over the next 10 years – BC produced 36 Red Seal qualified people in 2012;

–       Welder – We’ll need 3,200 and yet only 94 achieved Red Seal status in 2012. While 76% of Welder apprentices passed Red Seal exams across
Canada, the figure was 49% in BC.

Also, employers in Alberta, Saskatchewan and elsewhere continually recruit BC’s Red Seal trades. How will we build the pipelines, LNG plants, mines and infrastructure without reform of ITA and the training system?  And we wonder why employers need to recruit existing and new immigrants and temporary foreign workers?

8. Accessible and Flexible Training

We still see many apprentices and employers who find it very costly if not impossible for apprentices to enter training in a regional centre or worse yet, the Lower Mainland of BC. With today’s online technology, and the experiences of those such as Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, Alberta and many others, why can we not design deliverable flexible training close to work and/or home, especially in remote northern regions? For example, the cost of mobile training units to mining, LNG and oil and gas companies would be a ‘rounding error’ compared to their total capital and operating costs.

Much of formal trades training is theory-based and there is no reason that it could not be delivered online. Nova Scotia has been doing the combined online/workplace trades training for at almost 15 years.

Are we forever going to design industry training around institutional, faculty and ITA needs or around employer and learner needs?

Part of the flexibility employers and learners need is flexible scheduling of the in-school training. This has only been seen in a few examples to date; otherwise ITA has continued the traditional “block release” training – standard Monday to Friday, 5-6 hours per day. This will not work for many employers and apprentices across the province.

How will ITA and the training system fast-track learning and certification – particularly in the north – to meet the human capital needs of many major projects?

9. Funding Framework

The ITA is accountable for funding and outcomes for pre-apprenticeship (Foundation) and apprenticeship training, mostly delivered by public colleges. Yet the Ministry of Advanced Education and Innovation is the source of most of this funding. College boards and administrations continually lobby that ministry for change, not the ministry responsible, the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training. Colleges complain about the capital expense of trades training. Is it time for governments (including the Government of Canada to make a major investment in trades training capital?

Also, the ‘elephant in the room’ is the cost of developing curriculum. Instructors are funded for 5.5 hours of contact time, paid for 7.5 hours but take little time to update their curriculum. Either increase productivity by lengthening the training day, or deploy instructors on more curriculum development.

10. Training Program Design and Structure

In January 2003, the BC Government – before much consultation with industry and others – produced a discussion paper entitled “Industry Training: Toward a New Model.” After the consultation and dismantling of ITAC, the Government created the ITA legislation and the ITA.

In the almost 10 years of ITA, I have not seen more than a handful of successful “new models”. I have seen traditional apprenticeship, and some experimenting with models adapted from Australia and that have failed or flagged in BC.

I have also not seen the development of a new model that adds inclusiveness to new industries and occupations that cannot otherwise participate in the ITA and the training system in non-traditional ways.


Necessary Reform – Key Success Factors

I was a supporter of the “new industry training model” a decade ago when it was conceived. I have been a supporter of ITA for most of its life. And I do not advocate going back to the old ITAC model for our training system. So in my opinion, here is what’s needed:

1. ITA Governance (and Mandate) Reform

Ensure – to the extent an industry training body continues to exist – that it includes direct employer and employee representatives while at the same maintains the fiduciary role of directors.

Ensure a strong component of people with trades, trades employer, and training backgrounds.

Alternatively, the governance of the industry training system could revert to a council of ITO Board members and CEOs (the reformed version thereof described later). Do we even need an ITA-like body – keep the Customer Service entity, move policy and funding approval to the Ministry, and use industry to identify needs, develop programs, and engage their employers.

Also, include leaders from non-apprenticeship industry training sectors and consider broadening the ITA mandate to certification of occupations that are not Red Seal ones but have strong national standards (e.g. mining, tourism, aerospace, oil and gas, etc.).

2. ITA Administration Reform

If the ITA administration cannot be streamlined, simplified and downsized, the BC Government might as well close it down and create a smaller Industry Training Branch within the Ministry responsible. The industry-driven nature should come from industry and, in my opinion, from a reformed ITO structure, not from an ITA bureaucracy.

3. ITO Reform

ITA has minimized ITO roles and resources. The ITO mandate and role needs to be reviewed and the following changes should be considered.

Maintain but streamline the ITO structure and increase its mandate. Keep a Resource ITO, keep a Construction ITO, create a Service ITO and migrate the tourism, horticulture and automotive ITOs into it. And create a Manufacturing and Transportation ITO by moving transCDA into it and moving some manufacturing trades under the new ITO’s responsibility. Other points:

  • Ensure labour relations and politics do not influence the Construction ITO governance, and ensure this ITO includes a clear mandate for residential construction occupations.
  • Create an ITO Council or Board that answers to the ITOs and represents them with the ITA and on other issues that are multilateral (involve all ITOs).
  • Ensure strong private sector labour representation on ITO Boards. House new ITA-funded “coaches” in the ITO structure to be located in regions with high demand and shortages in trades workers.
  • ITA should fund program standards development work in ITOs, and should provide incentives for ITOs to increase outcomes and create innovative industry training models and tools that increase apprenticeships and certifications.

4. Reform of Training Institution Funding

For once and all, put the funding decisions around industry training in the hands of industry. Use the reformed ITO structure to affect this; not a government ministry, not a crown bureaucracy, not the training institutions. If the funding has to reside in government, put it in the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training – the ministry responsible for industry training. The ITA or its replacement should have this money directly in its budget and have more discretion in how it is spent and the accountability parameters involved.

Allow the industry training body to negotiate performance contracts with public and private training providers.

5. Reforming and Fast-Tracking Training Institution Delivery

In regions like the northwest of BC, training providers and employers and others need to think out of the box and create more flexible, shorter, modularized industry training models. Create an institutional incentive program for a “rapid response industry training” program. Consider tools such as mobile training units, online learning, and formal on-the-job training.

Create a program for institutions to recruit new instructors in high-priority trades to supplement and replace the aging trades instructor workforce in certain regions of BC. Perhaps the Ministry of Advanced Education should consider financial incentives for institutions to be able to do this.

Increase incentives and accountability for institutions facilitating the transition of Foundation program graduates to apprenticeships. Change the funding based on the proportion of college graduates who transition into an apprenticeship.

A good case study for fast-tracking training would be the scenario of one or more LNG export facilities being built in the northwest of BC, not to mention other major projects – focus on the top 5 priority trades.

Also, the BC Government and the school system and colleges should significantly ramp up dual credit (credit towards post-secondary and apprenticeship) trades and technical training throughout the province and more strongly promote Secondary School Apprenticeship.

6. Recognition of Prior Experience and Foreign Credentials

Continue to grow trades certification through the recognition of prior learning among uncertified trades workers. Promote trades careers to internationally trained workers in BC and establish more supports and a streamlined process for certification of such people. More effort needs to be placed on better utilizing the trades skills of landed immigrants (ones already in BC or Canada).

7. Employer Engagement

The BC Government – with the Business Council of BC, BC Chamber of Commerce and major sector associations – should mount a major on-going marketing campaign to encourage/implore employers to hire, train and retain apprentices.

Give the ITOs more resources to do this ‘on the ground’ engagement. In addition to ITO “coaches” (funded by the ITA), provide other practical tools and incentives to make it easier for employers and workers to participate in apprenticeship.

Special attention needs to be paid to small businesses in terms of government financial incentives (e.g. perhaps use a special envelope of the Canada Job Grant funding, or a new component of the BC Training Tax Credit or federal tax credits and grants) to help them hire and retain apprentices.

Also encourage and help industries, perhaps via ITOs, to form collectives of employers so a) they can pool resources; and b) create a pool of apprentices that can work with various employers or move through different projects to complete their apprenticeships. This is analogous to the joint board concepts used by a number of trades sectors. Maybe we need a need made-in-BC model that does not have to rely on collective agreements. I believe the Resource Training Organization has recently proposed a similar concept and has a model that can be tested.

Further, planning and employer engagement can also be done in a comprehensive way at the major project level. So rather than on a trade or sector basis, ITOs and others can work with and engage employers and unions involved at project and community level.

8. Program Standards and Development

This needs to be done and overseen by industry through ITOs or even perhaps the previously mentioned ITO Council/Board, not by bureaucrats or training providers.

In my opinion, based on my approximately 20 years in managing and leading trades training program development projects and in my experience at ITAC, it would be going backwards and ineffective in having the ITA handle program development in-house. I say this for the following reasons:

  • The in-house option will be costlier and not necessarily lead to any better quality of standardized learning resources.
  • Outsourcing to industry via ITOs and/or other groups is essential for the process and product of program development to be truly industry-driven.
  • Having it done internally in ITA will further bog down the process of approvals that are already slow and backlogged.
  • Over time, the ITOs have developed a capacity and a cadre of highly qualified program development companies and consultants that have become very experienced and effective in the program development process and deliver high quality products.

9. BC Training Tax Credit

Evaluate as soon as possible the BC Training Tax Credit program as to its effectiveness in apprenticeship development and completion; and modify accordingly. Work with the federal government review the outcomes of its apprentice grants and employer tax credits; and push for necessary changes. Consider other incentives, particularly for smaller businesses, that could increase apprenticeship registration and completion.


In Summary – Urgency

BC is facing a perfect storm of tremendous job growth, an aging workforce, underutilized talent, and resulting skill shortages. The potentially huge wealth generation from major projects throughout the province will be jeopardized without fixing BC’s industry training system, quickly.

The ITA and the BC industry training system need more than a cosmetic or minor ‘tinkering.’ We need bold reform from the Liberal Government, and we need employers, industry groups and labour to support this. Let’s get it right this time.

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