Excerpt from the Official Report of
DEBATES OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY

(Hansard)


March 8, 2016

Debate: Bill 7, the Industry Training Authority Amendment Act.

S. Simpson: I’m pleased to join in the debate around Bill 7, the Industry Training Authority Amendment Act.

As the minister says, what Bill 7 largely does is to flesh out a number of the other recommendations that were put forward by Ms. McDonald in her report that she prepared in 2014. The name of the report — The Industry Training Authority and Trades Training in B.C.: Recalibrating for High Performance. That was an independent review by Ms. McDonald of trades training in the province.

What this piece of legislation will do is set out a purpose for the Industry Training Authority and its role in terms of the trades-training system. What’s quite remarkable is that we are more than a decade into this process and there never has been a purpose statement for the authority, which is pretty remarkable when you consider the important role that it plays.

This also will require the Industry Training Authority to develop and implement a multi-year strategic plan to set its priorities and its targets as per government. While there’s been talk about a business plan and there’s talk about financial plans in the existing legislation, there never has been the discussion about a strategic plan to this. It’s probably a good thing that we’re getting to having a strategic plan. It requires the ITA to engage stakeholders for advice and recommendations on the development of that plan. We’ll get a clarification from the minister. I’m sure we’ll get this when we get to the committee stage.

The legislation talks about ensuring that there is consultation with industry. Now, Ms. McDonald, in her recommendations, is clear that she is of the view that industry should be all-encompassing and include organized labour in that category. So I’ll look forward to the minister clarifying that she sees organized labour as a full partner as part of that industry umbrella and, as such, a full partner in the consultation process. I’m sure the minister will be happy to answer that in the committee stage. Then it provides for some other minor updates.

As I said, the reason for this, the intent, the purpose for this piece of legislation is — I’m not sure that it completes, and we’ll talk about that when we get to committee stage as well — certainly to add some pieces that fall under the recommendations that Ms. McDonald put forward in her report.

I guess that part of what becomes important is: why did we ever get to Ms. McDonald’s report? What was the impetus and the requirement that government felt and others felt in order to put this report in place? What we know is that the road was pretty rocky for the first decade of training in this province after the B.C. Liberals took power.

There had been in place ITAC, which was put in place in 1997, 1998. It was an entity that was, most of us believe, reasonably successful. It was also an entity, it was very clear, that had four partners at the table. It had industry at the table, it had labour at the table, it had educators at the table, and it had government at the table. Together, they moved forward trades training in this province — and with quite a bit of success, I believe. If you go back and you look at the record, you’ll see that training was going quite well.

There was significant investment in training at that time. Probably upwards of 120 people, at its high point, worked for ITAC in regional offices around the province. It had counsellors in place that worked very closely with apprentices. It was a very hands-on approach. As such, it was pretty effective and had industry pretty much engaged, I believe, in that process. But what happened was that in 2004 the government of the day made the decision to scrap ITAC and to create the ITA, in its first incarnation, in 2004.

One of the first things that the ITA did is it became an industry-only body. There was no more labour at the table. There were no more educators at the table. It was industry and government who were at the table. Quite honestly, for the next decade, I believe it failed. It failed right through till about 2013, 2014 — right through till about when Ms. McDonald produced her recommendations and government started to act on those recommendations.

It failed because it just was not…. It dropped staff. At one point, it went from that 120 staff down to about a dozen people working for the entity. It then climbed back up to about 50 or so folks — about 25 in admin and about 25 in service delivery. That’s the staffing levels.

It eliminated those counsellors, and it eliminated compulsory trades. Those all disappeared. So there no longer was the compunction on the part of industry to have to have Red Seal plumbers and Red Seal electricians. They could take a standard — I think it was the certificate of qualification — that was a little bit less and, in fact, accept that.

The result was that while we saw a lot of people coming in and starting trades training programs, there wasn’t a very good completion rate — not a very good completion rate at all.

We also saw, in areas like carpentry, where we’d had Red Seal carpenters who were entirely skilled up to do all aspects of carpentry, that those positions started to be replaced by folks like framers. All of a sudden, you were training somebody up to frame a house — not to be a carpenter, but to frame a house — and that was a fundamentally different skill. There is no correlation between the carpenter and the framer. They are different people doing different jobs. There are extremely different skill sets and levels of expertise and skill there, but that’s where things went.

The challenge there was that…. We saw Red Seals being devalued when you started to take compulsory trades out, when you started to see these other skill sets, when you saw this adoption of these other approaches, when you saw no ratios of apprentices to journeypersons on worksites, when that all kind of fell by the wayside.

The result of that is a lot of trouble in the trades training field. The only area that was still showing success were those trades that were driven exclusively by, primarily, the building trades. That’s because they maintained a model that was very similar to what had existed under ITAC, where they still had counsellors in place, where they assured that before they brought apprentices forward through the foundation programs for apprenticeship, they in fact had employment placements for them. That was part of the deal — that their employers had placements.

One of the big challenges, I know — the minister and I have discussed this before — is the challenge for the sector today: the takeup by employers to open up placement opportunities for apprentices to be able to get their full apprenticeships completed. We know that’s a problem.

It wasn’t a problem for the labour-driven trades programs, because one of their principles was that they didn’t accept the apprentice unless they knew the path to complete the apprenticeship and had lined up the employer as well. They had a much higher completion rate — upwards of 90 percent completion rate.

On the other hand, from the time of ITAC, when the ITA went into place, in the first four years, the completion rates dropped by 40 percent under the ITA. They climbed back up later, but they dropped. So this was a huge, huge problem.

Of course, the thing we know is that…. This may be one of the things that the Premier’s claims around LNG…. LNG may have, if it has done nothing else, in some ways saved training in the province, because we know that when the major proponents, whether it was the Shells or the Chevrons or those companies, came to British Columbia early on in their exploration, one of the first things they did was sit down with the potential companies and with the unions and with government who would be building their projects.

The conversation they wanted to have was: do you actually have a skilled workforce in British Columbia that can build these projects?

What was discovered, of course, is that, yeah, there’s a workforce here that could build one, maybe a little bit more than that, but not entirely…. Certainly, if there had been anything like the kind of extraordinary claims of the government around LNG and around what would be built, that wasn’t going to be built — six, seven, eight, nine, ten projects, however many LNG projects we should have under construction now based on the government’s claims.

Obviously, that would have been an issue. Those companies, the Shells and people like that, said to the government: “You need to fix this, because your training program is a mess, and we can’t get the people that we want.” That led the government to respond, particularly when those companies also said: “We’re pretty comfortable with what the unions do in training and how they train people up at the end of the day, but there aren’t enough of them, and there’s not enough people coming through their system.”

So the government moved. The government moved and restructured. Some people would say they took the training program away from Phil Hochstein and gave it to people who knew what they were doing. Part of that included bringing labour back to the table, because there was a recognition — and Ms. McDonald recognizes this in her report — that labour initiatives around training were extremely effective and that the advantage would be to bring them back in, to bring the educators back in, to frame a structure that looked a lot like 1998 and ITAC in terms of the people who were at the table and part of the conversation.

That’s, in fact, what started to occur, and that system started to shift. We’ve seen that, and we have seen improvements, but we had a lost decade there — a lost decade for training in this province. And there was a scramble to catch up. The training is not just in the trades. There was a heavy trades focus, obviously, when everybody was preoccupied with LNG a couple of years ago. There was a heavy trades focus, because people were looking at the construction, primarily, of pipelines and how that would proceed.

Now we have a situation where we’ve seen some movement, and we’re now seeing a system that makes, certainly, somewhat more sense. It still has a long way to go. It still does have a long way to go, and there still is a fair amount of work to be done. When you look at the blueprint for jobs, when you look at those initiatives, there needs to be a conversation, certainly and absolutely, looking at the purposes here, along with the blueprint for jobs and for training, with real initiatives around diversification.

I think we have, the last time I checked — and the number, I know, changes; it’s a bit of a moving target — about 70-odd trades or so that are approved for the blueprint and for post-secondary institutions, trades in a variety of areas where they can, in fact, invest in seats and be part of the 25 percent of the grant that now is targeted on the blueprint.

This is a case where, for people who wouldn’t understand, you have the grant that comes in to the post-secondary institution. The government has said a significant portion, evolving over time, 25 percent, needs to go to training, primarily, and qualified trades, qualified skills, can fit within that 25 percent. It was very heavily focused on skilled trades, building trades — that we understand —and health care, initially. It’s becoming a little more flexible now, and it should continue to become more flexible as more trades and more skills move into that field.

We see it with some computer sciences now, though there’s a lot of that in schools already, but certainly, we’re seeing it in some of those areas. There needs to be probably be more work done there around the blueprint and what that looks like.

The challenge that we see with this is really going to be to put, I think, some focus on what is in the bill. When we look at the bill itself…. As I said, the first section of the bill talks very specifically about purpose and about the act laying out the purpose. If you look at Bill 7 and you look at the act, it lays out the purposes of the authority. It’s not long, and it’s not an onerous list.

There are five purposes laid out in the legislation:

“(a) to manage and support an industry training and apprenticeship system in British Columbia; (b) to ensure that the industry training and apprenticeship system referred to in paragraph (a) meets the Province’s need for skilled workers; (c) to work with the government to achieve the government’s objectives respecting the industry training and apprenticeship system referred to in paragraph (a); (d) to promote industry training programs, including by encouraging employers and individuals to participate in those programs;”

And (e), other things as the minister may, from time to time, prescribe.

So that’s the purposes — pretty general, pretty generic, largely, leaves it pretty wide open. The real question here…. I hope we’ll have an opportunity to have some of this discussion when we get to committee stage — an opportunity to think through and talk through some of these matters — about what managing and supporting an industry training and apprenticeship system in British Columbia looks like.

That gets back to the consultation about how broad that’s going to be, about that purpose, about how those organizations are going to be involved, how labour plays a bigger role, how educators play a bigger role, how the conversation goes, where money comes from. The bill also changes some things around money, and we’ll talk about that in a bit. But that’s pretty important. We need to talk about what that looks like longer term — what managing and supporting that system looks like.

Meeting provincial needs for skilled workers. That’s an important conversation, because the conversation then becomes: how do you do that assessment? Is it going to be the ITA’s job to do that assessment? Is it the government who will do it and provide that direction to the ITA as to what the demands are? Will it be coming from industry exclusively? Will other sources be able to contribute to that? Will labour market development agreements be used in order to go out and highlight some areas where there may be some innovative approaches that we can take that might require some skill training, that might require us to do more here?

When we talk about meeting those needs, it’s going to be very interesting to see how the government determines to assess those needs, because we know that everybody will be a little bit different. Everybody will have a bit different list. Some people will be strong advocates for their particular sectors. Other people will maybe take a step back from their interests and look at the bigger picture of British Columbia overall.

There will be significant differences between what happens in urban areas in terms of demand and, potentially, what happens in rural and outlying areas. There will be significant questions about First Nations, training for First Nations, the role of the ITA in providing training for First Nations and how that will occur. That will raise the question, of course, about consultation. It says government is to achieve their objectives. Point (c) is “to work with the government to achieve the government’s objectives respecting the industry training and apprenticeship system.”

There are also stakeholders, clearly, and there will be significant questions about how those stakeholders are engaged. First Nations — if they’re going to play a role in the ITA, it’s going to be a very interesting conversation as to how those training initiatives evolve with First Nations and how First Nations are engaged in that process. There’s lots of work to be done there. We’ll have to see how that evolves out of the purposes. We’ll get a chance, hopefully, to talk about that as we try to dig down a little bit on the purposes of the authority and what it looks to achieve.

Point (d) is “to promote industry training programs, including by encouraging employers and individuals to participate in those programs.” Encouraging employers to participate is probably the biggest single challenge today. It’s getting employers to step up and take apprentices on and know that, when you take an apprentice on every year, they’re going to go back into the classroom for a period of time to do some classroom work. You’re going to have employees who maybe aren’t accomplishing everything you would like in their first couple of years, but they get there, and at the end of it, you get a fully qualified, skilled tradesperson or skilled person who is working for you.

The challenge is that not enough employers are taking up that opportunity, taking up that challenge. It’s not happening. Employers aren’t doing it in the numbers that are necessary. The incentives that are being offered, at this point, from government are not enough to get employers to step up and to do that.

That becomes a significant problem, because you can’t make the apprenticeship system work if you don’t have those employers who are at the table saying: “I’ll take those apprentices.” This will raise challenges. As we look at how to encourage that involvement, this is going to raise challenges for government to solve this problem.

One of the issues that’s apparent…. In some travel around the province and talking with employers, I’ve heard this on a number of occasions from employers who in fact are engaged in the apprenticeship system, who are taking apprentices in, who are doing their job to prepare people, to mentor, to have the journeymen working with the apprentices and making this work.

The challenge they have is that far too often…. I’ve heard this on numerous occasions. What happens is they get a couple of years down the road of that apprenticeship, and then their competitor down the road — who is not participating in the apprenticeship program and may be a bigger operator, in some cases — scoops that employee and basically poaches that employee away for four or five bucks an hour more. Good for the worker.

The worker says: “Hey, I can pick up another four or five bucks. I can finish this apprenticeship another time, but I need the money.” And they jump, for a few dollars more.

You then have this apprenticeship that’s been stalled mid-term — not good, in terms of wanting to have skilled Red Seal journeymen coming out of the system. You have an employer — who was doing everything they could do to be supportive of the apprenticeship program and working hard to in fact make that work, including engaging apprentices — all of a sudden feeling like they got undermined because some guy down the road poached their employee, and they’re frustrated.

I’ve heard a couple of them say: “I don’t know if I’m going to do this again, because this isn’t the way it’s supposed to work.” They’re right. That’s not the way it’s supposed to work. Then you’ve got the guy down the road who poached the employee and who’s not playing by the rules. Instead, what they’re doing, frankly, is letting somebody else pay the bill to train their workers, and they’re not playing at all.

When you try to get at this issue around purpose in that, in terms of promoting industry training programs, including encouraging employers and individuals to participate in those programs, it may take a little bit more than just encouragement to make that happen. But it’s an important purpose. We’ll get to see.… I look forward to the minister’s comments in committee stage about how she believes that’s going to work.

What you have is a situation where the purposes are pretty broad. They talk generally to a series of important items. It’s important to put those purposes in place. I think we’re just going to need to try to clarify what they mean, and what the minister’s view is about what they’ll mean, in terms of real and direct application.

The other changes that are interesting are in section 6 as amended, and 6(5) says:

“The authority must, on or before December 31 of each year, submit for approval by the minister a 3 year strategic plan that sets out the following in relation to the authority’s next 3 fiscal years:

“(a) how the authority proposes to advance each of the purposes referred to in section 2.1; (b) the process the authority proposes to use to engage stakeholders to ensure that there are sufficient opportunities for stakeholders to provide to the authority advice and recommendations in relation to the strategic plan and the advancement of each of the purposes referred to in section 2.1; (c) other matters the minister may require.”

This strategic plan, as I said, is a step forward. It replaces a business plan. Now, the challenge here is that while it says the authority has got to produce this report by the end of the calendar year for the minister, and it does say that, for the authority, part of the plan has to include some discussion around stakeholder engagement, to provide recommendations and advice.

It will be important to clarify who the stakeholders are. We know it’s industry. As I said, Ms. McDonald, in her report…. When she identified industry, she recommends — it’s a clear recommendation in her report — that industry must include organized labour and workers as well.

If I assume that the minister is going to concur with Ms. McDonald, then it will be: okay, well, what does that mean, and how, in fact, is organized labour, particularly, playing a role in this? How are others getting to play a role in this? How are educators getting to play a role in this?

There may be others. There may be others that make eminent sense. It also may make eminent sense around that plan in terms of implementing the purposes, assuming the strategic plan is the way that some of the questions that I’ve asked will get answered. It’s through the strategic planning process: how that’s going to engage and who’s going to be engaged with this.

The other thing that’s interesting about this, though, is it says that the “authority must submit to the minister, at the times specified by the minister and in a form approved by the minister” the strategic plan and that it needs to consult industry stakeholders and other stakeholders the minister may specify. I’ll be interested to hear who the minister thinks those other stakeholders are that she’s going to specify.

It also does make one change. In the current legislation, I believe it says 90 days — that 90 days after the fiscal year starts, this report has to be released. This legislation makes a change to that. It changes that and, essentially, is more silent on that matter. It assumes the minister will release it, but it’s not entirely clear about what the requirements are — and certainly nothing as specific as the 90 days in the current act. We’ll have to see what the thinking was for, in fact, making those changes.

Another section that is kind of interesting is that if you look at the act itself, in subsection (10), it talks about where money comes from.

...

S. Simpson: It talks about where dollars will come from. Under the act, it’s quite restrictive about where the training authority, the ITA, can get its money from. This legislation will change that.

It says “money received by the authority from any source may be retained by the authority to be used and dealt with for its purposes.” So it does change where the dollars will come from.

It’s going to be interesting. I’m very curious to know from the minister what her expectations are about what those sources of funds may be that might come, what the value of those sources might be, what the minister believes they would be appropriately used for and whether there are certain items that some money may or may not be appropriately used for and other areas where, in fact, money can be appropriately used.

We have the purpose of the legislation, which is very broad and very generic. It really does open the question…. It’s a good thing that it’s here, and I think there is an argument to keep it fairly broad and fairly generic. I’m not quibbling about that.

But somewhere in the conversation, it becomes important to put more meat on those bones and to be more specific, particularly in this place and probably in committee stage. I think that the ITA and certainly the interested stakeholders are going to want to hear from the minister what her thinking is about those broad purposes and objectives and what she believes that means in terms of the work of the ITA moving forward.

Then, of course, the three-year strategic plan, which is a new piece as well — what her belief is about the complexity of that detail, what her expectations are about what will and won’t be in the plan and what her expectation is about how that plan will evolve, how it will be processed, who will be involved in that conversation and, possibly, what their involvement will be and what that begins to look like. Those become important issues.

Then there are questions about timing — when we all get to see that strategic plan and when that might be in the yearly cycle — and then questions about money. Questions about money are always important questions by anybody’s standards. We’re always happy to talk about money.

As we move forward on this legislation, as we move forward on the training authority generally, we see some other challenges that are in front of the government to make the ITA successful, to make it more successful than it is. These are challenges that we have seen now in two major initiatives that have been advanced by the government in the last year.

The first one was last year. We adopted legislation in the summer session, where we had the quick summer session, around a project development agreement for Pacific NorthWest LNG. In that, we saw very little, if anything, that talked about issues like apprenticeships, and certainly nothing that talked about ratios, something every other province has. When other provinces put these initiatives forward, almost without exception, they have ratios saying, “If you have X amount of journeymen on a job, you’ll have X amount of apprentices on the job” — formulas that work.

Those are the same formulas that are in collective agreements in British Columbia for the building trades, certainly, and I believe for other unions. They have formulas that say X amount of journeymen, X amount of apprentices — usually in the 20 percent, 25 percent range of apprentices. But there was nothing in that project development agreement, nothing in that agreement at all.

Now, there are those who will argue: “Well, there’s a limit to what the government should impose on the private sector, in terms of those companies and what they do.” There might be some argument for that. But understand you’re giving them what was an extremely good deal — that for a whole range of reasons, which is a different debate, they’re not taking advantage of — to exploit a finite resource that belongs to all British Columbians.

The question about ratios and apprenticeships and other benefits that should come to us from those agreements…. That’s where that plan failed, and that’s one of the reasons that we didn’t vote for that agreement, because of the terrible shortcomings in terms of anything that put British Columbia first.

Now we see again in Site C — the Site C agreement that was signed for the major civil work, the agreement that has been put in place around that work — a very similar situation. There is nothing around jobs, certainly around British Columbians. There’s nothing there around apprenticeship commitments in any meaningful way. There’s certainly, in other matters, nothing around local procurement.

We know the partnership that we always talk about with First Nations. It seems that most of the debate around Site C is in the courts with the First Nations — as they fight it out in court, at this point, or on picket lines and protest lines — not about partnership. Clearly, it’s failed there too.

It raises the question: if you’re going to make the Industry Training Authority work and if you’re going to make the new purposes in that work, then those other pieces of what government does, particularly in the expenditure of government dollars, taxpayer dollars, for major projects, capital projects and other major investments…? When you do that, there’s got to be some carrots and sticks here to make sure that those companies who are successful bidders and those companies who desire to bid are, in fact, going to create those opportunities.

Now, there has been some work done on that in the last year by the government. I know that. I know the minister is aware of this issue, but we have to see action. Being aware and seeing substantive action are two different things. We’re going to have to see how that all plays itself out as we move forward.

As this bill comes forward, I think what we need to do — and what we desire to do at this point, really — is say that this is a bill that we will support. It’s a bill that does some things that need to be done. It’s a bill that deals with some fundamental flaws in the ITA, like not having a purpose or a strategic plan. Those things need to occur. This bill does take us steps down the road to accomplishing that.

But it raises just about as many questions as it answers, and we’ll have to see how we proceed with that and how that moves forward. We’ll be looking forward to having more debate about this as we proceed and to having more opportunity, particularly in committee stage, to get the minister to answer a number of these questions.

With that, I’ll take my seat. I look forward to hearing members on the other side as well as our side continue this debate.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019 - 12:00pm - 4:30pm