The Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre Society’s open house event on Oct. 1, 2011 served as a celebration of the new building, and as a reminder that trades training is essential to the success of the province’s construction industry. During the day’s events, Owner of Tri-Metal Fabricators, Joe Tos,o attended to give words of praise and to announce a generous cash donation for the centre’s operational expenses.
“And here we are,” Jud Martell said as he kicked off the afternoon’s event. Martell, the Centre’s training co-ordinator, served as the Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre Society’s (SMWTC) open house master of ceremonies. Throughout the event, Martell introduced speakers representing the province’s trades industry to a crowd of approximately 50 students, contractors, shop owners, and union reps.
Before the new training facility opened in Surrey in February 2011, sheet metal training was conducted in a leased facility on Dawson Road in Burnaby. Hundreds of apprentices received their training at that facility throughout the last 20 years, but eventually it was time for an upgrade. Now the society finally has a place to call home.
The new, brighter centre features taller ceilings, larger classrooms, and improved parking. Many renovations were required once the society acquired the right space, and the finished product showcases the successful collaboration between labour and management since those who contributed were SMACNA-BC or Local 280 members.
The new centre was purchased for $1.6 million with the financial assistance of VanCity – a member-owned credit union working to keep assets local – and many others who donated labour, supplies, and direct funds.
The SMWTCS chose VanCity because it has principles similar to those of the sheet metal training board, SMACNA-BC, and Local 280, said Martell.
“These are the types of places we need to be working on and supporting to build a robust pipeline of opportunities,” said vice-president of VanCity Andy Broderick.
“We aren’t successful unless our members are, so being involved with this kind of investment is absolutely central to what we do. Most member institutions are working to create value for investors who live elsewhere, whereas we are working to keep assets local.”
The day’s events focused on two main themes: that of the history of the province’s sheet metal industry, and connections among the professionals along the way. Visitors were reminded that at the end of the day it’s about the people who make it all happen, and there has never been a better time to begin a career in the trades industry.
The event’s keynote speaker, Kevin Evans, is the current CEO of the Industry Training Authority (ITA). SMWTCS is one of 20 private facilities with the ITA.
“There has never been a better time in BC to be entering a skilled trade,” Evans said. “Right now the average age of a journey person is 41 years old, and they aren’t getting any younger. Stats BC predicts there will be upwards of 7,000 new workers required in the metal-working and metal-forming industries in the next ten years.”
For the first time, continues Evans, the province will be facing the problem of gaining access to the human capital that will be required to keep up with the pace of construction. “It’s going to require a shift in our thinking and a move towards a true training culture where training is viewed as essential.”
One key asset in gaining human capital will be high class training facilities like the SWMTCS, but more so, the passion and commitment from all of those individuals that contribute to success of those facilities, said Evans.
Although skilled trades workers are in high demand these days, provincial trades training faces two sets of challenges, admitted Evans, who said there is still a stigma in high schools delivered by teachers and parents.
“The belief of some individuals is that the trades are reserved for those students who can’t quite cut it. This mindset is changing, but very slowly,” Evans added.
Things like the Skills BC Program and training facilities are changing the somewhat negative reputation of the trades.
“When I was in high school, trades facilities weren’t as bright and clean as this,” Evans said looking around the building. “They were of a different era. Today, all those involved in trades have the opportunity to be ambassadors for younger people as they figure things out.”
A second challenge the trades are currently still facing is the 2008 recession, which delivered apprenticeships a “kick in the teeth” because when times get tough, apprentices are the first to get laid off, says Evans.
Because there are fewer employers taking on apprentices, the ITA is individually contacting those employers who had apprentices at one point, yet no longer do, to find out what it will take to encourage them to take on apprentices once again.
These efforts will go hand in hand with a new media campaign the ITA has in the works which will help reminded shop owners that working with apprentices is not “charity”—it is simply good business sense.
“One thing that sheet metal workers in particular over 100 years have done very well is train themselves,” said Martell. “A true apprentice takes it upon themselves to succeed as a journeyman.”
SMACNA-BC’s president, Joe Toso, owner of Tri-Metal Fabricators also attended the open house to share a few words of praise (followed with a generous donation towards the center).
“In the last few years and in the next, boomers will be leaving the industry, and we must occupy our workforce with new workers. It is imperative that we do so; we need them on the inside,” said Toso, who has 46 years of industry experience. “There will be sustainable jobs if we focus on newer technologies. We can focus on innovation to help us overcome economy problems.”
Now that the centre is located in Surrey, counsellor Barinder Rasode greeted the Centre and spoke of Surrey’s current infrastructure improvements included in the Build Surrey program—a $2.8 billion economic investment plan. The projects outlined in the program will be designed and constructed over the next six years to prepare Surrey for growth over the next decade. They will provide Surrey residents with world-class facilities and encourage growth in every part of the region.
“All of this infrastructure requires skilled workers,” said Rasode, adding that the timing to welcome the new training centre into Surrey is perfect.
“The City of Surrey is a firm believer in working together,” he said. “We won’t be able to do this without you. Surrey is proud and honoured that you’re here and know you will do a good job in the community.”
Minister of Advanced Education Naomi Yamamoto said it was absolutely wonderful to see SMWTCS in a home of its own. “I really look forward to learning more about the collaborative work by the contractors, individuals, and unions that have made this possible,” she says.
Helping people fulfill their dreams is the entire goal of education and high quality apprenticeships are a valuable part of the process. It is estimated that one million jobs will become available across the province by 2020, and of that, the trades sector will see the most expansion. “We have to be ready,” said Yamamoto.
One way the province is preparing to help fill the impending labour shortage is by extending the BC training tax credit by three more years. The credit grants employers incentives for hiring and investing in tomorrow’s skilled apprentices.
Another way to be ready is to ensure students are happy with the quality of instruction they are receiving. Yamamoto says the satisfaction rate is high. When surveyed, 93% of recently trained trades workers reported they were satisfied, or very satisfied with the in-school training they received, she said. “So, I thank you for all you’re doing.”
The SMWTCS open house was hosted by the trustees of the Sheet Metal Industry Training Board: Aaron Smith, Angelo Paris, Craig Benson, Gord Adams, Greg McDonald, Jim Paquette, Lewis Mood, Paul Charbonneau, Paul Daniels, and Troy Clutchey.
Other notable guests that attended the open house were Mike Harris of the International Training Institute (ITI); Doug MacDonald of the Sheet Metal Worker’s International Association (SMWIA); Vern Henderson, president of Local Union 280; and Bruce Sychuk, executive director of the British Columbia Sheet Metal Association (SMACNA-BC).
The new centre is located at 19077 – 95A Ave. For more information, call 604.882.7680.