Grand Falls-Windsor -
Minister of Education Darin King says his department is committed to helping apprentices in the province overcome the challenges they are facing in gaining employment.
A couple of years ago the department created a special task force to identify future labour market trends employment opportunities in Newfoundland and the labour force that would be needed to supply it.
That task force led to the development of an incentive program to attract people to the trades and a Provincial Apprenticeship Certification board to develop and oversee the apprenticeship program.
Since then, many apprentices who were attracted into the trades and graduated from their training are having trouble finding work in their trade.
"We're continuing to focus on that regularly," King said. "We understand the challenges around people getting their training and then coming out and finding it difficult to get the support in the private industry that they need."
King said they have been working to try to bridge the gap between employers and apprentices looking for work.
"Through our department and the Department of Transportation and Works, as well as through Memorial and agencies such as school boards and health boards," he said, "we have provided hiring incentives and wage subsidies to those organizations so they have been able to go out and hire more apprentices, so that has created job placements for apprentices. And also with the youth retention strategy recently announced by Minister (Susan) Sullivan."
Peter Walsh, a second-level electrical apprentice, said he is applying to a local call centre to find work, because of the difficulty finding enough work in his trade to get though his apprenticeship and support his wife and 18-month-old son.
The government incentive grants provided through the apprenticeship program, he believes, were intended to support apprentices, but are part of a program that is flawed.
"It was supposed to get more people into the trades and it was completely understandable at the time, but how are we supposed to get their incentive grants if they can't get the work to get the hours to qualify for the grants?" Walsh said.
Anne Gehan, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the union that represents workers in the electrical trade, said she deals with 20 to 30 calls each day from individuals having a hard time finding work in their trade.
Gehan also sits on the apprenticeship board and said she doesn't blame the program. She blames the economy.
"I've been with the union for 30 years, and president since 1986, I've seen good years and bad years, but this is the worst time I have ever seen it," she said of the lack of work for those she represents.
Gehan said her son is an electrical worker who is unemployed and she understands the frustration of students and parents of students coming out of their training only to find there is no work.
"Some students have to pay off their student loans as well with no work and some are not EI eligible," she said. "It is not easy for all the young apprentices, I can tell you that right now."
Recommendations from the government's appointed task force have lead to a number of investments to support apprentices in the past several years, including $54 million between 2006-2008 targeting the hiring of apprentices, infrastructure, training and support for apprentices.
King said he believes Newfoundland's apprenticeship program - part of the nationally accredited Red Seal Certification program - may need some tweaking, but is on par with that of other provinces in Canada and is one that is most connected with industry support.
He expects the department will do more in the near future to demonstrate its commitment to apprentices.
"We're looking at a couple of other possible ways we might be able to provide extra incentives," he said. "Over the next couple of weeks I hope to be able to share more information on that."
Gehan said the uncertainty of work is an unfortunate reality of life working in the trades.
"A lot of students think they will get work right away, but it doesn't work like that, and when you are dealing with people who have a family to support, that's hard for them to hear."
Gehan said the Iron Ore Co. of Canada in Labrador City was their biggest source of employment for electrical workers in the province and when its expansion went down, so did a lot of the opportunities in electrical trades.
"There was always work there, but there hasn't been anything there since last fall," she said.
She said she believes the work situation will improve in time.
"The work has not come back, but it will," she said. "It's just trying to keep up hope until it does."
Walsh said he looks forward to any new developments that might be on the horizon to help apprentices like him.
In the meantime, he said, he's living on a dwindling savings and hopes his wife, who is taking a medical transcription course through distance education, will have more luck than him work in her field of study.