The provincial government has a plan to get more women and indigenous people involved in the trades, as well as establishing thousands of new positions for apprentices. That was the message from Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades Council, as he addressed the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leaders Luncheon on Sept 25.

Sigurdson explained his organization’s involvement with the province’s new Crown Corporation, BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc., and the concept of how Community Benefits Agreements can help address the demand for skilled labour.

After the presentation, John Knappett, from Knappett Projects, took the opportunity to directly question Sigurdson about how the province’s plan will impact contracting firms such as his own. One of the most contentious issues has been the requirement for all workers on infrastructure projects to join a government authorized union within 30 days. Knappett noted that his firm has worked hard to build a trusted team. Those workers provide him with better certainty on projects than he says he would have if forced to use a labour pool supplied by the province. The concern was echoed by others at the luncheon.

Sigurdson acknowledged what he called the elephant in the room. But he believes the provincial government’s approach will effectively address the shortage of apprentices, women and indigenous workers in the trades.

Other comments included how to help more students choose a career in the trades, and ensuring there are adequate opportunities for training at post-secondary schools such as Camosun College, which sponsored the luncheon.

The Chamber invited Sigurdson to speak to Vancouver Island business leaders because there is tremendous concern about the looming shortage of skilled-trades workers. The Chamber is a non-partisan organization that works to represent the best interest of business. We encourage the provincial government to increase the number of apprentices in the province, and make sure the workforce is better represented by women and indigenous people.

We also understand that the method the province has chosen has not gone over well with many other organizations that represent businesses and the construction industry. The first projects to implement the CBA framework include the new Pattulo Bridge over the Fraser River, and the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Alberta.

A lot has been promised, and the outcome of these projects will be heavily scrutinized to make sure they deliver.

Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce