CARMA launches task force to raise apprenticeship concerns

A group of Central Alberta manufacturers say they’re being hurt by restrictions governing apprentices, especially welders.

A group of Central Alberta manufacturers say they’re being hurt by restrictions governing apprentices, especially welders.

Central Alberta Rural Manufacturers Association (CARMA) decided on Wednesday to create a task force to raise its concerns with the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, in hopes of bringing about change.

CARMA president Brian Mercer, a manufacturing engineer with Lee Specialties Ltd. in Red Deer, said his group has identified several shortcomings with existing apprenticeship requirements.

Among these is the necessity for skilled temporary foreign workers to prove their competency in a trade within six months of arrival in Alberta.

“The issue with that is you may have an excellent welder, but if his English isn’t any good he ends up failing the test because he doesn’t understand the questions,” said Mercer, who wants the timelines extended.

CARMA members are also frustrated that apprentice welders are prohibited from working on products like pressure vessels, even when supervised by a journeyman.

“If you’re not doing the work, how can you be expected to learn?” asked Mercer, who agreed that apprentices should not be allowed to perform critical welds on a sensitive project.

Another concern relates to the level of education that welding apprentices require. CARMA thinks the minimum should be Grade 12, as is the case with certain other trades.

“We’re bringing people in whose math and so on is not as good as it should be,” explained Mercer.

Finally, he said, the requirement that a journeyman welder be on site when welding is performed creates a hardship for some companies.

Such a restriction makes sense in the case of structural or pressure equipment welding, but not for simple projects that do not have safety implications, he suggested.

Sorcha Thomas, a public affairs officer with Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education, said the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board welcomes input from industry.

Responding to CARMA’s specific concerns, she said temporary foreign workers are encouraged to complete a certification exam within six months of their arrival. But they have up to a year to do so, she added, with the earlier date emphasized so that deficiencies can be identified and addressed prior to the final deadline.

Thomas said that the prohibition with respect to welding pressure vessels originates with the Alberta Boilers Safety Association, but the Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board is working with it to establish new practices or standards that would enable apprentices to work in the pressure industry.

As for the minimum level of education to enter the trades, Thomas said the board encourages high school completion, although the minimum requirement is lower for some trades. For welders, the minimum is Grade 10 English and math, or passing all five Canadian general education development tests, or passing the entrance exam.

The requirement that a journeyman welder supervise welding on a worksite is to ensure safety standards, said Thomas. The board did recently increase the journeyman-to-apprentice supervision ratio from one-to-one to one-to-two, she pointed out.

A concern that CARMA and the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board share is the shortfall of young people entering the trades in Alberta.

Mercer said his association hopes to play a more active role in promoting the trades as a career option, perhaps by inviting school students and staff to members’ plants to see the work being done there.

Thomas said her department is active in a number of initiatives to attract new people into the trades, including the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) for high school students.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com