The federal government recently announced it is accepting proposals from unions and other organizations in the skilled trades interested in receiving financial assistance through the new Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP), a move that is being applauded by rival groups across the sector.
The government is investing $85 million over four years to support union-based apprenticeship training, innovation and enhanced partnerships in the Red Seal trades. The call for proposals was launched on July 24 and the closing date is Sept. 5.
Robert Blakely, Canadian operating officer for Canada's Building Trades Unions, said the program is great for the entire industry.
"I would think that people who are opposed to unions are generally opposed to progressive governments so there always is a tendency to slam this as pandering to your friends. The truth is the net beneficiaries for a lot of this stuff are employers," he said. "At the end of the day, this is a way of meeting capacity."
He noted the funding can be used to buy equipment so that more people can have access to training, thereby increasing the throughput of skilled workers.
"The college training is stretched and where there is graduate level training required then there needs to be a place where you can access it and it isn't always available. What the training centres are going to be able to do is invest in resources that they might not have been able to get before," he added.
The program is open to all unions, including those that do not provide training recognized by provinces and territories as in class technical apprenticeship training, and those that do not operate training facilities, the government release indicates. Quebec organizations are not eligible to apply for funding as discussions are underway to develop a unique approach for the province.
"We're strong supporters of innovative training that helps ensure our skilled trades people are well equipped for the future," said Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada. "It's great to see government and industry working together to improve training and encourage more young people to pursue careers in the skilled trades."
The UTIP was announced in Budget 2016 and is rolling out about $10 million in funding in 2017-18 and $25 million annually.
"With planned investments in infrastructure and a changing workforce, it is expected that the demand for skilled tradespeople will continue to grow," stated a spokesperson from the media relations office at Employment and Social Services Canada in an email to the Daily Commercial News. "Unions play a key role in the construction industry with a high level of involvement in apprenticeship and trades training. The construction industry is well-positioned to benefit from the new program with the majority of construction trades being Red Seal trades."
The program will be comprised of two funding streams: cost-shared purchases of training equipment and materials and support for innovative approaches to strengthen apprenticeship training.
"Continuous technological change puts pressure on training providers to ensure trainees are developing the right skills needed on the jobsites," the spokesperson noted.
"Stream 1 will help unions purchase new, up-to-date equipment with a priority on projects where labour market demands exist. To access Stream 1 funding...projects must be led by a union representing workers in the Red Seal trades and be able to demonstrate a need for new equipment and a demand for workers in the trade."
The second stream supports initiatives that break down barriers for women and indigenous people who want to enter the skilled trades.
"This stream is open to a range of stakeholders and partners, but unions representing workers in Red Seal trades must be involved, either as the lead or as a partner on projects," the spokesperson noted.
Blakely commended the government for encouraging innovative solutions.
"Part of the innovative solution might be some of the trades clubbing together," said Blakely. "The pipefitters, the boilermakers, the iron workers and the millwrights all work beneath the hook of the crane operator...maybe they can learn together and we can make better use of some of the resources that we've got."
He added the program is a good way for the government to encourage people into the trades and ensure training is "modern, relevant and can be modified as time goes on.
"The impact that doing this may have may go way beyond that simple little amount of money if part of the innovation is getting more aboriginal people, getting women and getting other people who wouldn't have had a chance to get into the trades," said Blakely.