The Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) says the Ontario government’s new initiative that’s meant to help apprentices and skilled trades workers develop “green building skills” is a step in the right direction.
"Our governments seem to be poised to push green energy, whether it be provincially or federally, so we need to prepare ourselves because this is a new sector...it requires a high level of skills training that didn't exist until recently," explained Joseph Mancinelli, LIUNA international vice-president and regional manager of central and eastern Canada.
"We're going to see an increase in these kinds of jobs for the future and we want to make sure we've got a workforce that is ready and prepared to do the work."
The program announcement was made recently by Deb Matthews, minister of advanced education and skills development, at the LIUNA Local 1059 Regional Training Centre in London, Ont.
Mancinelli said it's significant because it shows the government is eager to get the green or low-carbon building skills curriculum into training centres.
"There is a commitment on behalf of the provincial government to work with our training centres in order to deliver a curriculum that fits into what the government wants to achieve," he said.
"That's important because we really want to make sure that apprentices are moving in that direction as well and acquiring the skills that are necessary to do that work."
The initiative is part of Ontario's Climate Change Action Plan and is funded by proceeds from the province's carbon market.
According to a release, unions, colleges and universities can acquire new equipment and increase their capacity to train current and future workers in low-carbon building skills through sector-focused partnerships between unions, employers and others to support training programs.
The program can be applied to new and upgraded facilities that add more capacity to support green building skills training; new green training curriculum standards for apprentices; and research into green labour force needs.
Mancinelli said there is a lot of work and jobs coming out of the green energy sector. Building solar and wind farms, for example, requires a combination of old and new skills, he noted.
"With the solar farms, we have a number of members that are going to be doing concrete work for the bases," said Mancinelli.
"That's not new work. Our guys know how to do concrete work but the direction of the solar panels is something that is new to a number of our members and those are skills that need to be taught. To reach a level of productivity and proficiency in the industry it's going to take a little bit of time as well because it's all new."
According to Mancinelli, skills development and the skills shortage that the industry is facing are the most important issues in construction right now. He noted many experienced workers are expected to retire in the next decade.
"The young people who are coming into the industry, even though we're training them, they don't have the multitude of skills of the people that they are replacing. It's so important that they are trained properly and get onto the jobsites because that is where a lot of the heavy training is done," he said.
"It's really important for them to learn more than one skill because the people that they are replacing are multi-skilled. This is one of the greatest challenges that the construction industry faces right now is training new people and also getting new people into the industry — young people, women and newcomers."
He added it's imperative to train workers in areas that are in high demand such as transportation infrastructure, tunnelling, building roads and bridges and reconstructing roads and bridges because infrastructure is crumbling.
"We need the skills that are in high demand right now and that's where we need to really concentrate on," said Mancinelli.
"We have a training centre in every major city in the province and right across the country so we take this as being priority number one."