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Mentoring project in Nova Scotia to aid apprentice training

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by Korky Koroluk

Eighty per cent of apprenticeship training takes place on the job, which means the construction industry should be looking at it in a much more structured and logical way.

Skills development

‘Most of the training that takes place on the job not structured’

OTTAWA

Eighty per cent of apprenticeship training takes place on the job, George Gritziotis notes, which means the construction industry should be looking at it “in a much more structured and logical way.”

Developing that logic and structure is the objective of a pilot project in mentoring that he hopes will be started within the next 12 months or so involving the Construction Association of Nova Scotia.

Gritziotis, executive director of the Construction Sector Council (CSC), said in a recent interview, that the journeypersons who instruct and supervise apprentices on the job “are not hard-wired to do that kind of job,” and more structure is needed so that the industry gets the kind of workforce it needs.

“There are some great mentoring programs out there,” he said.

“But most of the training that takes place on the job isn’t structured. And people in the industry are so busy that they’re not allowing themselves to put some thought into what the future workforce is going to look like.”

Since skill training is central to the CSC’s mandate. It decided to develop a national mentoring program capable of responding to the need for more and better mentoring in all sectors of the construction industry.

A program that helps people become better mentors could not only result in better training, it could also help keep some older workers in the industry. It could even result in mentoring becoming a “designated occupation” in the industry, Gritziotis said.

“It’s certainly something I’d like us to discuss. That’s how important I think it is to train our next generation of workers. Maybe a mentor shouldn’t just be an informal label.”

He said that older journeypersons with the aptitude and training for mentoring could see it as a way to remain in the industry for another few years.

A lot of what Gritziotis calls “corporate memory” is lost when people retire. Keeping older workers on in mentoring roles would allow them to transfer their knowledge, thus preserving the corporate memory they possess.

The CSC was established in 2001 as a non-profit, national labour management organization charged with addressing the human-resource issues facing the construction industry. It operates as a part of the national Sector Council Program.

It works with the entire construction spectrum — residential, commercial, industrial, civil, union, non-union — everyone. And the committee it has formed to work on the mentoring program reflects that.

Gritziotis said there are representatives from residential, institutional, commercial and heavy construction, union and non-union.

“We feel we can get the biggest bang for the buck when we can undertake an initiative that touches the industry right across the board — not just working with one group — something that draws a lot of organizations together.”

It’s a theory that has worked well for the CSC in its development of labour-market information and forecasting and e-learning courses.

When people sit on CSC committees and participate as developers of CSC products, “I think the likelihood of them using those products is much greater because they have ‘ownership’ of the final product,” he said. “They can see their contributions in it.”

Most contracting firms — perhaps 80 to 85 per cent of them — have fewer than 10 or 15 employees, he said.

They have no human resources departments, and “they don’t have the structured mentoring program that allows them to train apprentices in an effective way, or in the way they wish they could, so this mentoring program is a response to a big need,” he said.

The big firms are doing their own thing, and that’s great, he said, “but the majority of the activity is in organizations that have fewer than 15 employees.”

“So that’s what our job is: to act like a skills development department, by working with them to produce these mentoring programs and get them into use so the industry can start utilizing the, to replenish the workforce.”

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