At the "Careers Next Generation" conference held in Edmonton last month, executives, students, union leaders, educators, government employees and others met to map out a high-tech future for the province and ensure Albertans continue to drive their own economy. They heard that to stay on top, more young people must enter trades and technology fields, apprenticeships and journeyman training. Many high-paying careers await skilled workers.
Syncrude Canada's president and chief operating officer, Jim Carter, said his company has invested $30 billion in oil sands production in Alberta and will double that in10 years. "The growth of the economy will create 40,000 jobs for those who have the training," he said.
The average journeyman in Alberta is 42 years old. Already there is a shortage of skilled workers preparing to replace retirees and take on the projected $45 billion dollars worth of projects.
Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training's director of strategic field operations, Olie Schell, agrees the demand for workers is high and billions of dollars of expansion projects are at stake. He talked about ways people can get in on that and upgrade their skills if they're not ready. At the post-secondary level, he said, "There are numbers of pre-employment courses which are trade-related at various institutions across the province and which are accessible in various Aboriginal communities. And a lot of individuals that participate in those programs, it gives them a lead in to the trades, because they can be accredited for the technical training component of that trade."
Alberta Apprenticeship approves but does not offer programs itself. A school might offer pre-employment training of14 weeks to eight months for people who want to be welders, carpenters or millwrights, for example. They get a basic understanding of a trade, some lab time and related theory. Funding can come from EI, the First Nations and other sources, Schell says.
"With the anticipated projects that are planned for the province of Alberta, we're certainly looking at new construction," Schell says. He says they'll need welders, carpenters, electricians, steamfitters, pipefitters, and iron workers. An increase in population will mean more accommodation, stores, and more service-sector jobs such as camp cooks and automotive service technicians. Currently, Schell is aware of a shortage of welders and steamfitters.
He says the most common age for entering trades training is 20 to 22 and trainees have grade 12 or higher. Many journeymen are also recognizing they have to take correspondence courses or night courses to advance in their chosen occupation.
So you wonder why the perception in some sectors is still that trades and technology workers are "not academically inclined," as Schell has heard many times, or not smart enough for university. Today, computers and fibre-optics are changing many of the jobs that used to involve manual labor, and $80,000 a year is not unheard-of earnings for an experienced journeyman.
Schell says Gift Lake is one community he looks at "with nothing but awe for the work that those individuals have done." He says they've put their community members into apprenticeship programs, and subsequently individuals have become skilled trades people who have started their own businesses and trained others. He says Gift Lake and Peavine Metis communities don't need to bring in people from the cities to build their houses and do the work in their settlements. "They're using the skills and abilities that they've learned through apprenticeship training," he said.
Doug Golosky, of Clearwater Welding in Fort McMurray, laments "When the economy's slow, nobody trains. When times are good, journeymen prices go up," because there's a shortage of skilled workers.
He estimates the average age of an apprentice is 29. "We've got to get out and educate the kids in school," he says. "I belong to the Aboriginal apprenticeship committee, throuh the govrnment, on trades, and that's a new initiative they're just starting up. How to get (information about trades) out, and how to get young people into, not only the trades, but I think it's important to get them into technical schools.
"Our problem is we always seem to concentrate only on one area. There's lots of opportunities . . . welders, carpenters, millwrights, machinists-not too many people doing anything with machinists-boiler-makers. Then there's the other technical stuff like civil engineers, quality control people that go to SAIT and NAIT, and those you have to have a Grade 12 education. And the same with the trades now.
"We can't only concentrate on the trades. We have to look at what does industry need. All the technical schools have different programs and we've got to have people out there selling these ideas to the communities."
"We just had that 'Careers the Next Generation'," Golosky said, and what it showed is how high schools can work with registered apprentices, so when the kids are going through school they can get credit to be a tradesperson. And that's being sold all over the province, but they've got to get out to the outlying areas."
"Last year something like 400 kids went through the RAP program-registered apprentice. They get job placements and they get paid as they're learning. They also get credits for their schooling," Golosky said. As early as grade 10, students can be placed with companies to do a semester of work and a semester in school, so that by the time they complete grade 12 they have perhaps a first year credit toward their apprenticeship.
In Golosky's area and elsewhere, he says, there is a program called "Co-operative Student Training", set up through the colleges for those who have left school within the previous five years. "In our shop we have that," says Golosky. "We take from the high schools and we hire people that are laborers. And if they got the right attitude, we offer them an apprenticeship."
Anothr idea Golosky olds out for consideration is streamlining the efforts of groups offering training. "We have the bands doing training, we have the Metis local doing training, we have the municipality-how much is it costing us, how much are we producing? Are we effective in what we're doing?" Golosky asks.
He says maybe one person needs to be hired to pull all these groups together.