Province introducing apprentice tracking, mentorship program

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Construction jobs are a direct benefit of large mining and oil developments. In 2012, with more investment in large projects and more jobs coming online, filling available positions with as many local workers as possible remains a challenge for the government.

Capital spending in the oil and gas sector is expected to total $2.7 billion in 2012, up about 46 per cent from last year, according to provincial government documents. The increase is primarily due to the Hebron project heading into construction.

Mineral shipments are expected to be worth about $5.7 billion this year. It is a new record for the province and a reflection of investments in infrastructure.

Mining-related employment is set to increase, due in part to construction of Vale’s Long Harbour nickel processing facility. Peak employment at Long Harbour is expected in the second quarter of 2012, with about 3,500 jobs, dropping off by year end.

As construction jobs become available, skilled workers are needed.

The provincial budget includes $4.1 million in new spending to develop more skilled trades journeymen in the province. The spending will be split between three items, but how much of the new funding will go to each item was not made available Tuesday.

First, the province will expand its wage subsidy program, encouraging employers to take skilled trades apprentices onto their job sites.

The government will also introduce a tracking system for apprentices moving through their training.

“Right now it’s a very independent system where they find employment, they log their hours, we phone them and tell them when the block training is and they schedule it,” Minister of Advanced Education Joan Burke said. “So we’re going to be doing more of a follow-through to see where there’s issues … and provide the supports necessary.”

The final item is a new mentorship program, providing journeymen to supervise and train apprentices on the job at sites where such supervisors might not be readily available.

Exactly how that program will work is unclear. Burke said it may be done by contracting a journeyman-level position for a job site, in collaboration with employers.

Burke was asked what will happen if private companies are simply not interested in training apprentices on the job.

“If there are some employers that are just absolutely resistant, I don’t know what other supports we could probably introduce that would change their mind,” she said. “But I think if they’re open at all and they could see the benefit of having an apprentice go through their place of employment, I think they would see the benefits very quickly.”

Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees, has said adding journeymen would be the key to introducing the program in the public sector.

“It’s one thing to say we’re going to develop the apprenticeship program, but you have to make sure you’ve got someone there who is going to supervise those apprentices,” she said.

Furlong said the province competes for top skilled workers with places such as Alberta, where there are higher-paying jobs, and questioned whether the province will be able to keep the skilled workers who are trained.

“I’d be surprised if they’re going to fill into the public sector because the salaries, the wages, are not comparable with the private sector and government has got to realize they have to do something for those workers,” she said.

Burke said the department will host a series of regional forums on skilled trades apprenticeships “in the next couple of weeks.”

As for filling jobs, the budget also includes $200,000 to develop a Workforce Development Secretariat, “which will focus on ensuring that labour market policies and programs are strategically aligned to develop and deploy a highly trained and skilled workforce that can meet evolving labour demands,” states a government news release.

Organizations: Newfoundland Association of Public and Private Employees, Workforce Development Secretariat

Geographic location: Hebron, Long Harbour, Alberta

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