Eight in 10 British Columbians support return to compulsory trades: survey

Some 94% of respondents believe B.C.’s initiative to restore certification is very or moderately important, according to a poll by Research Co., commissioned by the BC Building Trades

Currently, workers do not necessarily need training or apprenticeship to work in certain skilled trades in B.C. | TerryJ, Eplus/Getty Images

The provincial government has committed to restoring a compulsory trades system in B.C., and the vast majority of British Columbians support the initiative.

A new poll conducted by Research Co. and commissioned by the BC Building Trades (BCBT), made available exclusively to BIV, has found that 80% of British Columbians are in favour compulsory trades certification, which would legally require workers to obtain training or apprenticeship in order to work in a skilled trade.

Ninety per cent of respondents believe the requirement will make the construction industry safer.

“We can't afford not to do this. There's a strong business case for why we would want to return to compulsory trades,” said Brynn Bourke, interim executive director of the BCBT.

Bourke believes restoring the system will help re-regulate B.C.’s labour market, build capacity to meet upcoming skilled trade shortages and motivate employers to indenture more apprentices.

B.C. is currently the only province in Canada without compulsory trades certification, which was eliminated in 2002.

When that occurred, apprenticeship completion rates collapsed by more than 30%, said Bourke, who added that apprentices were let go, and would-be apprentices weren’t indentured.

“There's a whole generation of trades people who wanted that credential, tried to get that credential, tried to get that full scope of training, and they didn't have those opportunities. And so this is really restoring balance to our labour market and doing right by these workers,” she said.

Minister of Labour Harry Bains, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training Anne Kang and Parliamentary Secretary for Skills Training Andrew Mercier – former executive director of the BCBT – are expected to make progress on restoring the province’s compulsory trades system over the next term, according to their mandate letters.

“There are cases, I’ve learned, that there is one qualified person and there could be 10 others who are not fully qualified [working on a project],” Bains told BIV in a recent podcast interview, adding that he thinks a compulsory system would improve the quality of work in construction, and the availability of skilled talent in B.C.

“I think you need an investor to look at what kind of skill pool do we have here: [does B.C.] have the skilled labour available when they want to heavily invest into our province? And I think the answer is that we are not there yet,” Bains said.

Prior to 2002, B.C. had 12 compulsory trades – nine in construction and three in automotive – including plumbers, electricians and automotive service technicians.

Bourke says that in general, these trades don’t have a high percentage of individuals working in them without relevant credentials, which would make restoring compulsory certification mandates in these dozen trades a good starting point. That initial step could be followed by the development of a system for assessing whether more trades should include mandatory training requirements.

Some 94% of respondents to Research Co.’s survey believe B.C.’s initiative to restore compulsory trades certification is moderately or very important.

“You just simply don't get poll results like that. That's a pretty high bar,” said Bourke.

The online survey polled 800 adults on March 8 and 9. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.