VICTORIA — The British Columbia government is launching a compulsory skilled trades certification system that it says will strengthen economic recovery by addressing labour shortages and supporting higher-paying, more stable jobs.
Premier John Horgan told a news conference Friday he recognizes it will be a big change for workers and employers, and the transformation won't happen overnight.
B.C. removed the requirement that tradespeople be certified in 2003, making it the only jurisdiction in Canada without a system for compulsory credentials.
That change "devalued" careers in the trades, Horgan said, adding it can be difficult for workers without recognized credentials to move from one job to the next.
Certification will happen in phases starting with 10 initial trades from the electrical, mechanical and automotive disciplines, the province said, meaning those workers will be required to be a certified journeyperson or a registered apprentice.
The government is aiming to introduce legislation next spring to support the implementation of the new certification system, with the first changes expected in the electrical and mechanical trades by 2023 and in automotive sector by 2025.
Once a trade has been designated for certification, the province said workers will have at least one year to either register as an apprentice or challenge an exam.
The initial 10 trades are steamfitter/pipefitter, refrigeration and air conditioning mechanic, sheet metal worker, powerline technician, industrial and construction electricians, automotive service, heavy-duty equipment and autobody technicians.
The changes will include the establishment of journeyperson to apprentice ratios for each trade to ensure levels of supervision and training quality assurance, according to a report from the ministry of advanced education and skills training.
There are thousands of trade workers with no formal recognition of their skills, and certification recognizes their professionalism and knowledge, while attracting more people to the work, said Advanced Education Minister Anne Kang.
About 73,000 job openings are expected in the trades in B.C. through to 2029 with more than half of those replacing retiring workers. Certification will help fill those roles and "build prestige" around careers in the trades, the province said.
Shelley Gray, the CEO of the Industry Training Authority, said the change is about "raising the profile of skilled trades to what they are: well-paying, highly skilled, meaningful careers that are so important and key for our future."
The Automotive Retailers Association called the change "one of the biggest breakthroughs we've ever been a part of," saying in a statement that technology in the automotive repair sector has "advanced to the point where no one should be allowed to offer ... service without the proper training and qualifications."
The decision to bring back certification was based on analyses of social, economic and labour impacts, and recommendations from a stakeholder advisory group with members from industry associations, labour and post-secondary institutions.
A public engagement process happening now through the fall will seek input on key aspects of the change, including how to help current trade workers get certified.
Deborah Cahill, the president of the Electrical Contractors Association of B.C., said their members are supportive of the transition to compulsory certification.
The need for qualified electrical tradespeople is increasing, Cahill said in a statement, and the association will participate in the engagement process to ensure those who will need to get certified are supported.
— by Brenna Owen in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 11, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press