Thank you very much, Chair, and through you to the committee members.
We appreciate the opportunity to provide our suggestions on the important topic of experiential learning and pathways to employment for Canadian youth. This is a very important topic for the standing committee to consider in light of the changing nature of work, shifting and aging demographics, and the need for both the providers and consumers of construction services to address succession challenges within the Canadian workplace.
By way of background, lCBA has been a leading voice for the construction industry in British Columbia for 43 years. We represent more than 2,000 members and clients who collectively employ over 50,000 people. ICBA advocates for its members in support of a vibrant construction industry, responsible resource development, and a growing economy for the benefit of all British Columbians.
On an annual basis, ICBA undertakes a comprehensive survey of our membership to provide us with a proverbial “state of the union” on skills issues within the B.C. construction sector. From a top-line perspective, the survey underscores that for at least the short term, times remain good, with significant construction activity and more work than workers available. The vibrance of the construction sector, though, is challenged with significant skill shortages. Across the broad range of trades, especially in the core construction trades, shortages of glaziers, pipefitters, sheet metal workers, electricians, and plumbers are widespread, slowing down growth in some firms and leading to potential forgone opportunities for growth and job creation. Overall, fully 75% of the companies we surveyed said that there are not enough qualified workers in the trades that they require. That's up from 59% in 2017.
In terms of ICBA's role in apprenticeship training, we are a leading sponsor of apprenticeship training in British Columbia. In fact, ICBA is the single largest sponsor of construction apprentices in our province. During 2017, ICBA sponsored 1,200 apprentices. The top five construction apprentice trades sponsored were electricians, plumbers, glaziers, carpenters, and refrigeration and air-conditioning mechanics. Beyond these top trades, ICBA sponsors apprentices in another two dozen trades in total. Our association is committed to working with our members to ensure that we are boosting the numbers of under-represented groups, including women in trades, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities.
Our organization's role in and commitment to apprenticeship training and sponsorship occurs against the reality that 90% of our members are small and medium-sized businesses. Small and medium-sized employers often have on-the-ground operational realities that may restrict them from fully participating in apprenticeship training. For example, the absence of an apprentice for six to 10 weeks annually, when classroom training takes place, can impair business continuity. Cost can be a significant consideration for the smallest employers, particularly those with 10 employees or fewer, or new start-ups.
Mindful of these challenges, ICBA assists by taking care of the administration and paperwork that participating small construction firms would otherwise have to undertake, leaving them to focus on their core business activities. Our approach to assisting firms with apprenticeship training also achieves a number of other positive interrelated objectives.
It can offer an apprentice exposure to the business side of construction should they wish to establish their own company once they receive full certification as a journeyperson. This is increasingly important as part of succession planning in smaller firms. It offers seamless transfer from one employer to another to ensure that the apprenticeship continues through to completion. It allows for a deeper level of assistance for apprentices who may be struggling with the in-school portion of an apprenticeship through the provision of additional learning resources when and where they are required. It continues to grow apprenticeship capacity in the system by bridging what otherwise could be a failure of the market to provide firms, especially smaller ones, with an avenue for training. Finally, it assists apprentices in networking and building relationships with a variety of employers as part of their career development.
This approach has served ICBA member companies and the consumers of construction services in B.C. well in the open marketplace, in both public and private sector construction. For firms of smaller size—that is, those under 20 employees—government should encourage consortia approaches, where they make sense, to deliver work towards training.
In addressing the skilled training needs of our membership, and collaterally the standing committee's mandate to study experiential learning and pathways to employment, ICBA also supports our members and their employees with a suite of broad-based professional development courses. In 2017 we trained over 3,300 people across 268 different courses that are recognized by various accrediting bodies and delivered in cities and job sites throughout British Columbia. For example, the top five courses in 2017 were foreman training, construction project management, construction law, negotiation skills, and responsibilities of joint occupational health and safety committees. These ongoing professional development post-apprenticeship courses are important for our members and their employers, and they also open up new career pathways for a skilled worker. Importantly for our sponsored apprentices, these include exposure to entrepreneurship and the opportunity for some to aspire to equity participation, business partnership, or incorporation of their own firms as they acquire new experience and business skills beyond their core trade or skilled occupation.
For today's youth employment challenges—not least the rise of the digital economy and more itinerant forms of work—government, business, and educational institutions need to do more to expose students to apprenticeship as a legitimate form of education. While there is a lot we do not know about younger workers, what we do know is that they place a high value on choice, flexibility, and opportunities to learn new skills in the workplace. These things are best accomplished by focusing on a few interrelated measures beginning in the secondary school system in Canada.
These measures could include enhancing focus on and exposure to apprenticeship in trades in grades 8 to 10, which should include exposing students to a range of trades and related opportunities in a way that provides equal billing and curricula to professional disciplines; increasing the amount and scope of high school level apprenticeship training, which ladders into college and polytechnical institutions; working with local business communities to provide mentorship and internship opportunities that expose high school students to a range of trades training pathways from a practical perspective. In other words, if students can touch and feel the nature of work, chances are better that they will determine a pathway suited to their interests and aspirations than they will if exposure is merely provided theoretically in the classroom. Working with small, medium, and large employers to incentivize, through financial and non-financial means, and exposing students early to a full range of apprenticeship training opportunities are also very important, as are instilling in high school students entrepreneurialism and the idea of being their own boss as a legitimate, challenging, and potentially highly rewarding pathway to full-time employment. The entrepreneurial opportunities that flow from learning a construction trade are often overlooked when educating young people on the career paths presented to them through acquiring these skills.
On behalf of our association, thank you very much for the opportunity to outline our role and our perspectives on experiential learning and pathways to employment. I look forward to the question-and-answer period.