Union training centres an answer to skilled trades shortage

Posted on December 26, 2023

Published in the Edmonton Journal - Dec. 26, 2023

Without the talents of thousands of trades professionals, we would not have the homes that shelter our families, refineries that provide products for heat and electricity, hospitals that get us healthy or schools that foster young minds.  

The work skilled tradespeople do to build and maintain the critical infrastructure needed to ensure our society operates smoothly cannot be overstated. These workers are integral to our economy and our communities, but their numbers are dwindling, and the need for real solutions is now.

A summer report from CIBC on Canada’s construction labour shortage highlights the fact that the number of construction workers over the age of 55 is now at an all-time high, and considering the retirement age in the construction industry is lower than in other areas of the economy, the problem is intensifying.

Moreover, recent numbers from Statistics Canada reveal Alberta has lost more journeypersons over the past 5 consecutive years than we have brought in. This is concerning.

Thankfully, the impact retirements and negative net migration is having on the skilled trades is not lost on decision makers. I am pleased to see the provincial government is looking for real and creative ways to lessen the impact these factors will have.

Mandate letters from the premier to ministers responsible for areas like jobs and trades training make it clear the province expects to see the skilled trades education path hold as much value, promise and praise as the university path. This is in an effort to attract more students to a rewarding trades career.

Parity of esteem is crucial to help fill the looming labour gap. It ensures youth, and their caregivers, understand that choosing a skilled-trades education and subsequent journeyperson’s ticket is as valuable as a university degree. Expanding supports for additional learning spaces can be key to unlocking more access to the craft trades, bringing much-needed folks in.

A solid education is a vital component that can help train the next generation of skilled-trades talent, and Alberta’s construction unions are an untapped resource that can get the job done.

Union training centres are world class, multi-million-dollar facilities that provide some of the best trades training on earth. IUOE Local 955’s Budd Coutts Apprenticeship and Education Centre and many others across the province have turned tens of thousands of apprentices into skilled journeypersons who have helped build everything from Alberta’s oilsands, to our pipelines, skylines, roadways and much more.

Additionally, the education spaces and equipment needed to learn the trades at union training centres are fully in place and funded by the unions themselves. Plus, training is provided to our members for free. If you’re not a union member, fear not, training facilities like Budd Coutts may still be available for the public to take advantage of, and one they can access on a year-round basis. There is no season our classes won’t sit, meaning union training centres can offer education when it’s convenient for the learner.  

Union centers also follow the curriculum guidelines set out by Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training and provide the same content students would receive at other post-secondary institutions across the province.

Alberta is seeing some incredible and much-welcomed growth. With more than $32 billion in deals done through Invest Alberta and major projects like Dow’s Path2Zero online, Alberta will need to provide tens of thousands of skilled workers to support industry.

All options to deliver these workers to meet demand should be on the table. The apprenticeship and education opportunities Alberta’s skilled trades unions provide in the crafts they operate in is a resource that must be utilized to ensure the province’s continued growth and future success.

Chris Flett,

Business Manager, IUOE Local 955

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