Apprentices required for public construction

Schools, roads and other taxpayer funded projects worth more than $15M will require apprentices starting July 1

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond and Tom Sigurdson of the B.C. Building Trades announce deal on public construction at the B.C. legislature Tuesday.

It’s not a firm quota, but construction unions have won a commitment from the B.C. government to require apprentices to be hired for public projects worth more than $15 million.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond announced the new requirement Tuesday, and it takes effect July 1. Construction firms bidding on major projects such as schools, hospitals, roads or bridges will have to include their plans to hire apprentices.

Construction unions have pushed for the change, arguing that a lack of apprentices on public jobs is an obvious gap in the government’s skills training plan. B.C. Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said he is pleased with the agreement, and will give it a year to work before deciding if it goes far enough.

Bond said the coming year could see as many as 15 major projects that would qualify. She agreed with Sigurdson that many apprentices don’t complete their training because they can’t find a job placement between stints in trade school.

Bond said subcontracts worth $500,000 or more, with a focus on one of the 57 Red Seal trades, will also require an apprenticeship component. In her discussions with employers, she said they are looking to increase apprenticeships as baby boom trades people begin to retire in large numbers.

Houle Electric president Robert Lashin said the government has struck the right balance. “By having a policy like this, government is setting a standard but is not being prescriptive,” he said.

NDP jobs critic Shane Simpson said his party has called for apprentice opportunities on publicly funded projects for years, but the government needs to go further.

“In the public service, including municipalities, schools, universities, health care, there are only 300 apprentices in the whole province, and about half of them are with BC Hydro,” Simpson said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger said “aspirational goals are not enough,” and the province should require one of four employees on major projects be apprentices.