Auditor’s report details problems in trades training

It didn't take BC's Auditor General John Doyle much time to point out the obvious. The first page of his 60-plus page review of BC's Industry Training Authority (ITA) summarizes in three sentences what post-secondary educators and the rest of the labour movement have been saying for six years: the ITA has been a terrible mistake.

Of the many things that Doyle found wanting in his assessment of the ITA, his sharpest criticism was directed at the ready-fire-aim approach that was taken to create the so-called "new model" for trades training. According to Doyle:

"The ITA did not sufficiently consult with, or provide enough guidance and support to its partners and stakeholders. This led to poor relationships that have hampered the training system."

In those few words, Doyle has captured one of the most significant failings of the ITA: their unwillingness to listen to or incorporate the views of those who know and use the trades training system the most- instructors and workers. That failure to consult reflected a winner-take-all attitude amongst employers who lobbied the BC Liberals to close the door on the labour movement when it came to trades training. For their part, the BC Liberals seemed only too willing to embrace the employer community's prescription for change.

What happened next was completely predictable. The BC Liberals used their massive majority in 2002 to dismantle a trades training system-the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC)- that had taken years to put in place and reflected the diversity of interests needed to make that system work. The voice and input from workers and those who deliver trades training (both instructors and post-secondary institutions) were virtually ignored by the ITA. Instead, the "new model" gave employers the lead, both in terms of governance and in the setting of policy, funding and curriculum issues.

Within the first two years of its operation, it was obvious that the ITA was not reaching even the most basic targets. The number of apprentices completing their training programs dropped steadily over the first four years of ITA's operation. By 2005, completion rates had dropped by almost 40% from the levels recorded under ITAC. Although the rates have improved somewhat since then they have not surpassed the numbers achieved by ITAC even though the ITA's budget has ballooned over the five years that it has been in operation.

One of the reasons why ITA's budget has increased is the massive increase in Industry Training Organizations (ITOs). These new entities were supposed to encourage and support greater interest and financial commitment by employers in trades training. It hasn't worked. Moreover, the spike in the number of ITOs has added administrative costs and enormous confusion to what should have been a much more coherent system of trades training support.

The Auditor's report confirmed that the ITOs were a poorly thought through initiative. According to the report:

"While [the ITA] planned for and provided some support for developing the ITOs, it launched the organizations without sufficiently assessing the risks or fully articulating the key policies. As a result, the ITOs quickly ran into administrative problems."

While there is some satisfaction in saying "We told you so", it doesn't address the central problem: how will the provincial government fix the mess they have created with ITA. For starters, Premier Campbell could take responsibility for the problem, call together labour, post-secondary institutions, employers and the Ministry of Advanced Education (which took over responsibility for ITA from the Ministry of Economic Development) and ask stakeholders to re-design trades training in BC.

It's a big move, but one that the system desperately needs to get trades training back on track.


About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.