Essential Skills for the Construction Sector by brk18073


									Essential Skills for the Construction Sector

Sector Profile
According to the provincial government in its WorkFutures report 1 , the construction
sector is "involved in a wide range of activities, from building houses, apartments,
shopping centres, sports complexes and factories to the construction of water
systems, roads, electrical towers and oil and gas pipelines." The construction sector
builds homes, apartment towers, office buildings, shopping centres and industrial
sites for private owners and roads, schools, hospitals, bridges, and office buildings
for the public.
Construction work is spread throughout the province in proportion to its population.
As the WorkFutures report goes on to state, "…almost two-thirds of the province's
construction work is located in the Lower Mainland, followed by Vancouver Island at
15% and the Thompson-Okanagan at 12%." The remaining regions in B.C. (the
north, the Cariboo/Chilcotin, and the Kootenays) each employ 2% to 4% of the
province's construction workers.
In addition to these geographic divisions, the sector can be subdivided in the
following ways:
    •   Residential / Commercial / Industrial • Union / Non-Union
    •   Trades / Professional / Management • Small / Medium / Large Firms
With regard to the residential / commercial / industrial sub-sectors, all three areas are
thriving, and are projected to continue to flourish. Residential housing starts in B.C.
have increased from 26,174 in 2003 to 39,195 in 2007, a growth of nearly 50% in
four years 2 . The Construction Sector Council (CSC) predicts that even if the number
of yearly housing starts decreases slightly in the next few years, it will remain strong
through 2015, at or around 2003 levels, which were at a six year high at the time 3 .
Similarly, commercial and industrial construction has been on a steady increase
since 1999 and is projected by the CSC to grow steadily over the next seven years.
The CSC also projects that current industrial and commercial construction for the fast
approaching 2010 Winter Olympics and various other projects (such as pipeline and
liquefied natural gas terminal construction, port renewals/expansions, and the
Vancouver International Airport expansion) will create a busy industrial/commercial
construction market in upcoming years. The sector includes over 50 different trades.
The construction sector is the largest employer of all of the goods-producing
industries in British Columbia 4 , employing almost 10% of B.C.'s workforce. The
sector has recently grown rapidly, increasing from nearly 125,000 construction

  Statistics Canada:
  Construction Sector Council, ibid
  WorkFutures BC

workers in 2001, to just over 221,000 in 2008 5 . Currently B.C. has Canada's highest
percentage of construction sector employment.
According to WorkFutures, "two-thirds of the people who work in the construction
industry are trades people, contractors and others with construction-related skills.
The remaining one-third includes management, finance, business and administration
services, and scientific and technical occupations such as architects and civil

Required Education & Training
In order to gain the skills needed for certification as a tradesperson, a person must
complete an Apprenticeship. Some people begin an apprenticeship through their
employment, while others begin it through an in-school trades Foundation training
In B.C. today, "apprenticeship is paid, work-based training, usually combined with
[yearly short periods of] post-secondary education. Typically, about 80-85% of an
apprenticeship is made up of work-based training and the other 15-20% is made up
of technical training taken in a classroom and shop setting. The length of an
apprenticeship can range from one to five years, but most require four years to
complete. Successful completion of both components, along with examinations, is
required before an apprentice earns a certificate or ticket, and becomes a certified
tradesperson in his or her trade." 6 To become an apprentice in B.C., a person must
sign an apprenticeship contract with his or her employer and with the Industry training
Authority (ITA), which oversees all apprenticeship training in the province.
People who wish to gain some skills in a trade before asking an employer for an
apprenticeship contract often take a Foundation Program (previously known as Entry
Level Trades Training, or ELTT) in that trade at a college or other training institute, as
an initial path towards a trade or industry occupation. Foundation programs generally
involve six to eight months of full-time in-school training, with an appropriate balance
of classroom and hands-on shop work.
Foundation programs offer a linkage to one or more apprenticeship programs and
may precede enrolment in a full apprenticeship. They may also provide credit
towards apprenticeship training, as Foundation program graduates are usually given
credit for the first year of apprenticeship technical training.
In 2007/08, the ITA reported 7 that there were 38,165 registered apprentices and
Foundation program students in B.C. Of these, 27,859 – 73% – were in a
construction trade.
Secondary school students can begin an apprenticeship with an employer through
the Secondary School Apprenticeship (SSA) program, or without an employer
through the Accelerated Credit Enrolment in Industry Training (ACE-IT) program. In
  Statistics Canada:
  ITA Performance Measurement Report, Jan. 31, 2008, at

2007/08, the ITA reported that 2,974 students were registered in an ACE-IT program.
Of these, 1,496 – 50% – were in a construction trade 8 . (We did not review these high
school programs nor survey their instructors; nevertheless, many of our
recommendations are relevant to those programs and instructors.)
For many trades, upon completion of an apprenticeship, an Inter-Provincial Exam is
available. These trades, known as the Red Seal trades, have nationally recognized
certification standards. The credentials of a certified tradesperson who has
successfully earned a Red Seal ticket are recognized across the country; that
journeyperson can work in the trade anywhere in Canada.

Skill Gaps & Training Needs
The construction sector is facing a serious labour shortage. The CSC notes the
following contributing factors 9 :
    •   Construction activity grew by 50% from 2001 to 2006. As such, maintaining an
        employee to job ratio equivalent to 2001 levels B.C. would have required a 9%
        gain in employment per year, but there was an increase of only 2%.
    •   The ‘baby boomer’ age group currently fills a large percentage of construction
        sector jobs. The CSC predicts a steady increase in their retirement levels over
        the next seven years.
    •   Increases in construction activity are occurring all across Canada, and those
        increased levels create increased work opportunities in other provinces. B.C.
        will continue to have to compete with other provinces across Canada for
        skilled construction sector workers.
The issue is that of skill shortages, not merely that of a shortage of employees. To
succeed in the workplace, many applicants need a higher level of Essential Skills.
The skills shortage issue is not unique to B.C., or even to North America. A recent
German report 10 10 states that "against the background of the demographic situation
as well as structural and economic change, an increasing demand for skilled labour is
the emerging trend", requiring people to have an "ability to engage in lifelong
learning". It then diplomatically notes that "some school leavers do not have the
required training maturity".
Globally, Manpower, Inc.'s 2007 Talent Shortage Survey 11 of 37,000 employers in 27
countries found that 41% of employers were having difficulty filling positions due to a
lack of suitable talent; second from the top in terms of difficulty worldwide were the
Skilled Manual Trades (which include the construction trades). In its breakdown of
these results by country, this study found that Canada's employers ranked Skilled
Manual Trades at the top, as the most difficult to fill.
  ITA Performance Measurement Report, Jan. 31, 2008
  Construction Sector Council, ibid
   "Ten Guidelines for the Modernization and Structural Improvement of Vocational Education and
Training", Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Berlin, 2007, pages 12 and 14.
   "Talent Shortage Survey – 2007 Global Results", Manpower, Inc., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

To try to meet this demand, organizations such as the ITA and the CSC are enticing
and recruiting record levels of new apprentices into the construction sector. However,
the number of apprentices who complete their training is much less than satisfactory.
Completion rates in BC in recent years have been approximately 40%. 12 This is
much lower than, for example, the rate in Australia, where the completion rate is
approximately 60%. 13 It is much lower than most B.C. university degree-completion
rates, which tend (over similar time spans) to also be around 60% 14 . However, a low
completion rate seems to be typical for Canadian apprenticeships: a recent StatsCan
study of apprenticeship completions in New Brunswick, Ontario and Alberta shows
that only 30% of building construction apprentices in New Brunswick who began their
apprenticeship in 1993 had completed their apprenticeship by 2003; the percentage
for Ontario was 29%, and for Alberta, 42%. 15
There are many possible causes for this low apprenticeship completion rate,
     •   There may not be enough work in the trade near the apprentice's home, and
         so he or she may change careers.
     •   The apprentice may decide to change careers for any number of other
     •   The apprentices may stay in the trade but move to another province.
     •   The increase in pay due when apprenticeship training is completed may not be
         enough to motivate the apprentice to take time off work for the in-school
     •   The apprentice's employer may not allow him or her to take the time needed
         for in-school training
Governments and educational institutions have little control over these factors. A
major factor over which they may have control, however, is the level of Essential
Skills possessed by the apprentice. 16 16 This factor is significantly affected by the
education and training offered in the construction sector

   Ball, Katrina, Factors Influencing Completion of Apprenticeships and Traineeships, page 3. National
Centre For Vocational Education Research, Adelaide, Australia, 2004, at
   Conway, Chris, The 2000 B.C. University Early Leavers Survey Report, page 9. The University
Presidents' Council of B.C., 2001, at
   Denis Morissette, Registered Apprentices: The Cohort of 1993, a Decade Later, Comparisons with
the 1992 Cohort, Statistics Canada, April 2008, at
   for instance, Lynda Fownes and Julian Evetts, Essential Skills and Success in Apprenticeship,
SkillPlan, 2001; Accessing and Completing Apprenticeship Training in Canada: Perceptions of
Barriers, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2004, and The Link Between Essential Skills and Success
in Apprenticeship Training, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, 2007

According to Statistics Canada's 2003 International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS 17 )
48.6% of adult Canadians have weak or poor Document Use skills, and 55.1% have
weak or poor Numeracy skills. For those working in the Utilities and Construction
industries (which were lumped by the IALS into one category), the average IALS
Document Use and Numeracy scores are both right on the dividing line between
adequate and inadequate levels. 18 In other words, employees in the Utilities and
Construction industries reflect the Canadian average: roughly half of them would be
above the IALS literacy cut-off levels on these two skills, and half would be below.

Existing Workplace Curricula & Resources
ACT / WorkKeys –
ACT is an Iowa-based, not-for-profit organization that has expanded worldwide and
offers a series of educational and work-based assessments and learning resources.
One such resource is the WorkKeys series of assessments. WorkKeys assessments
are meant to gauge the Foundation Skills that ACT has deemed vital to success in
both life and the workplace, and which are similar to HRSDC’s Essential Skills.
One interesting note is that WorkKeys has developed an assessment for Teamwork
Skills, which is the same as HRSDC’s Working With Others Essential Skill, and which
is often thought of as tough to measure. Also, the assessments need not necessarily
be used as assessments, but can be used as a resource to develop Essential Skills
related learning material. WorkKeys assessments and information
( Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training -
This is the Alberta trades board website. It details the trades in depth and includes
prerequisites, apprenticeship info, entrance process, and just about everything trade-
related in Alberta. The websites listed below provide information on the entrance
exam that prospective apprentices must take and pass if they are unable to meet the
general educational prerequisites required by specific trades in Alberta.
Entrance Level Competencies for Alberta Apprenticeship Programs:
Trade Entrance Exam Study Guide:

  "International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey: Building on our competencies" from Statistics
Canada's Daily, November 30, 2005, found at
   For Problem-Solving, workers in these areas scored, on average, 6.4% below the IALS literacy cut-
off level.

Entrance Exam Support Materials List:
The Apprenticeship Network -
The Apprenticeship Network features apprenticeship info aimed at number of
communities in Ontario, but features free online Ontario EARAT Skills Manuals. The
Evaluating Academic Readiness for Apprenticeship Training (EARAT) Assessment
was developed by the Workplace Support Services Branch, Ontario Ministry of
Training, Colleges and Universities, and is a diagnostic tool used to assess
prospective apprentices who may not have satisfied the educational prerequisites for
apprenticeship training. Many of the categories of the EARAT exams relate to
HRSDC’s Essential Skills and they are available for a wide range of trades.
AWES – Alberta Workplace Essential Skills –
The AWES society is a non-profit organization that promotes the Essential Skills in
Alberta through support of Essential Skills training projects. At the web address
below they have made available a manual that can be used to assist educators in
integrating workplace Essential Skills with conventional classroom instruction.
Integrating Workplace Essential Skills into Curricula: A Process Model
Building Academic Skills…Enhanced Math Learning in CTE. This recent report deals
with a study performed in American classrooms to determine student learning styles
and methods to better teach vocational mathematics. It provides another potential
model for improving teaching and assessment in trades math courses
Stone, J. et al. Building Academic Skills in Context: Testing the Value of Enhanced
Math Learning in CTE. National Research Centre for Career and Technical
Education, University of Minnesota. 2006.
Canadian Apprenticeship Forum –
The CAF is a non-profit organization that describes its mission as, “Influencing pan-
Canadian apprenticeship strategies through research, discussion and collaboration
[and] To promote apprenticeship as an effective model for training and education,
contributing to the development of a skilled, high quality, productive, inclusive and
mobile labour force.”
Accessing and Completing Apprenticeship Training: Perceived Barriers is a CAF
report that takes an in depth review of the many reasons why Canadians may not
participate in an apprenticeship and why registered apprentices may not complete
their apprenticeships.
The Link Between Essential Skills and Success in Apprenticeship Training is a CAF
report that comprehensively reviews just what the title states, the link between
Essential Skills and apprenticeship training. It summarizes 47 Essential Skills and
apprenticeship initiatives in Canada and thoroughly examines 7 in the appendices,

including work done by SkillPlan and the positively reviewed Nova Scotia informal
apprentice assessment process. www.caf-
The Conference Board of Canada –
 Source of The Employability Toolkit, a series of tools for sale that assist learners in
using and developing the skills needed in life and work.
Construction Sector Council –
The Construction Sector Council profiles the Canadian construction sector and the
different trades involved in it. It describes the apprenticeship process for the different
trades and provides publications that review construction sectors specific to each
province. The CSC is also an excellent source of trades related Essential Skills
learning material and other resources.

   •   Measuring Skills in Construction
   •   Essential Skills Self Assessment: Construction Workers Workbook
   •   Essential Skill Activities for Trades
   •   Plane Language for Construction
   •   Using Trades Math
   •   Log on to Learn: Computer-based training for construction managers
   •   Essential Skills Strategy for the Construction Industry
   •   Construction Looking Forward: Labour Requirements from 2007 to 2015 for
       British Columbia (
   •   HRSDC –
       The primary source of Essential Skills information on the web. HRSDC
       provides information, stats, definitions and everything Essential Skills related.
   •   Essential Skills Portfolio
   •   List of Essential Skills Resources:
   •   HRSDC Trades Sector Skill Profiles:
Industry Training Authority –
B.C.’s trades board offers up to date stats and information related to apprenticeships
and certification in B.C. It profiles different methods of starting apprenticeships in and
provides lists of training institutes in B.C.
   •   Apprentice / Trainee Guide
   •   (

SkillPlan –-
SkillPlan provides plenty of resources and information on the Essential Skills and
their relevance to B.C. construction trades. They are committed to promoting a
proper understanding of the Essential Skills and have developed an excellent set of
Essential Skills learning material that is directly applicable to the different B.C.
construction trades. Publications include:
       •   Document Use at Work
       •   The Language of Documents: A Guide to Information Display in the Workplace
       •   Essential Skills and Success in Apprenticeship
       •   Formulas at Work: Tradesworkers on the Job
       •   From the Ground Up: Tradesworkers on the Job
       •   Measurement and Calculation for the Trades
       •   Numeracy at Work Numeracy Rules
       •   Reading at Work: Workplace Reader Science for the Trades
       •   Tools for the Trade Writing at Work
TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills) provides very positively reviewed
workplace Essential Skills assessments including: Measure Up – Essential Skills Self
Evaluation Tool, and the TOWES G series tests for specific occupations including
construction trades.


Recommendations to the Ministry of Advanced Education & Labour Market
Development and its Industry Training Authority
We recommend that:
       1. The Industry Training Authority (ITA) and the College and Institute Student
          Outcomes Project (CISO) survey apprentices who have not completed their
          apprenticeship within six years to determine the causes of their non-
          completion. (p22 19 )
       2. The ITA amend its Apprenticeship Program Profiles to explicitly include the
          Essential Skills, as it has done for the Foundation Program Profiles. (p18)
       3. The ITA support the development of Essential Skill training materials for
          inclusion in Foundation and Apprenticeship programs, and include any training

     References are to pages in the full report

        time 20 these materials will require in its future program planning and budgeting
        process. (p18)
     4. The Ministry of Advanced Education survey trades instructors once again, to
        ask specifically which Essential Skills tasks are needed for success in the
        program but are not taught in the program, which are necessary for success
        and are taught or reviewed in the program, and which are not needed for
        success in the program. (p27)
     5. The ITA work with the various Trades articulation committees to examine the
        entry requirements and assessment processes now in use in B.C. and across
        Canada, and develop and implement a standard assessment test for each
        trade across all training institutions in B.C. (p25)
     6. The ITA require all those who wish to enter Foundation programs and all those
        who become registered apprentices to be assessed to determine the level of
        their Essential Skills. (p25)
     7. All B.C. regional post-secondary institutions, and other training providers and
        agencies as appropriate, offer these assessments, and that all assessment
        results be reported to the ITA. (p25)
     8. The ITA require those who need to upgrade their Essential Skills prior to
        Foundation or first-year Apprenticeship training to do so before being allowed
        to begin that training. (p25)
     9. The ITA, the Ministry of Advanced Education and the public post-secondary
        institutions work together to ensure that opportunities for Essential Skills
        upgrading are easily available for those who need them. (p25)
     10. The Ministry of Advanced Education fund the development and promotion of a
         set of on-line Essential Skills self-assessment and upgrading courses to give
         prospective apprentices easy access to upgrading they may need. (p25)
     11. The ITA provide employers with an Essential Skills assessment tool to help
         them with hiring decisions and to help determine employee training needs.
     12. The ITA add mentorship training and training in Essential Skills instruction to
         the final year of apprentice training, and work with training institutions to offer
         workshops in mentoring apprentices to all journeypersons who supervise
         apprentices. The Essential Skills of Oral Communication and Working with
         Others should be particularly emphasized for this purpose. (p29)
     13. The ITA review the exams used throughout each trade's training, and revise
         and improve them to better match the way in which the skills are actually used
         in the trades. (p31)

   We believe the additional training time needed will be minimal or zero, if the recommendations
regarding assessment and upgrading prior to entering training are adopted. See page 19 for more on

14. The Ministry of Advanced Education carry out a survey of instructors in basic
    education and related programs to determine the extent to which they assist
    trades students and apprentices to improve their basic Essential Skills, and to
    determine the extent to which these instructors are familiar with the Essential
    Skill requirements of the trades and the ways in which these Skills are applied
    in various trades. (p31)
15. The Ministry of Advanced Education sponsor a province-wide process by
    which pairs of basic education instructors and trades instructors can be
    supported in learning more about the Essential Skills needed by trades
    students and how those Skills may be taught, and, through a conference and
    other means, to share their learning with instructors around the province. High
    school trades and academic teachers should also be invited to participate in
    this pairing and sharing process. (p32)
16. The Ministry of Advanced Education sponsor a series of conferences,
    workshops and on-line sources for instructors, through which the many
    currently available Essential Skills resources can be discussed, evaluated and
    shared by trades and basic education instructors. (p27)
17. Through these workshops and conferences, trades instructors be given
    opportunities to learn how to more explicitly recognize the Essential Skills of
    Oral Communication, Thinking and Working with Others in their current
    technical training activities, and to learn how to more clearly integrate work on
    these Essential Skills into those training activities. (p28)
18. Through these workshops and conferences, trades instructors also be given
    opportunities to learn how to more clearly integrate the Document Use,
    Numeracy, and Reading Text Skills into their current technical training
    activities. (p31)
19. The various excellent resources developed by SkillPlan and others be
    publicized to instructors through these workshops and by other means (p32)
20. The B.C. Council on Admissions and Transfer set up a provincial Essential
    Skills Articulation Committee, with representatives from all post-secondary
    institutions and from programs of all types, to oversee and guide the
    embedding of Essential Skills in all post-secondary programs. (p32)
21. The Ministry of Advanced Education work with the Ministry of Education in a
    broad effort be undertaken to acquaint K-12 teachers, counsellors and
    advisors (and also post-secondary counsellors and advisors) with the level of
    the Essential Skills needed for a successful trades career. (p22)
22. The Ministry of Advanced Education review course, program and career
    descriptions to ensure that the required level of Essential Skills is consistently
    mentioned (p22)
23. The Ministry of Education develop provincial standards for the K-12 system's
    technical/trades courses. (p22)

Recommendations to Trades Training Institutions
We recommend that:
  24. At each public post-secondary institution, Trades program managers meet
      with Learning Centre managers to implement ways by which Learning Centre
      assistance can be made available, at appropriate times, to trades students /
      apprentices. (p31)
   25. At each public post-secondary institution, Trades program managers meet
       with basic education program managers to implement ways by which basic
       education assistance and Essential Skill upgrading can be made available, at
       appropriate times, to trades students / apprentices both before and during their
       in-school training. (p32)

Recommendations to Other Government Ministries
We recommend that:
  26. The Ministry of Economic Development create a system of incentives – tax
      breaks, perhaps – to encourage employers to support their apprentices in
      completing their training. (p22)

Research Methodology
 The core of the project was a survey of instructors in the construction trades in B.C.
The survey list was developed from various sources: contact lists on the websites of
the various trades training institutions, correspondence with program managers, lists
supplied by the Industry Training Authority and others, etc. In total the list comprised
374 individuals, 34 from private training organizations and 340 from public post-
secondary institutions. There were 115 final respondents, representing 30.7% of the
total population of the mailing list. Another 29.7% began but unfortunately did not
complete the survey; we were not able to collect partial results.
In addition to the survey, the following were completed: trades training program and
course descriptions at each public trades training institution in B.C. were reviewed to
determine what Essential Skills were explicitly included in the training program
curricula; a small sample of current and former apprentices, journeypersons and
employers, and staff was interviewed; entrance requirements and assessments
offered for all public and private technical training institutions in British Columbia were
reviewed; numerous studies and resources were reviewed to determine the state of
construction sector training in B.C. (and in a selection of other provinces and
countries) and to identify existing methods and models for improving Essential Skills
assessment and education; numerous sector and training related reports were
This report was prepared by Kwantlen University College working with SkillPlan (the
B.C. Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council) and the Vancouver Regional
Construction Association. For more information and to read the full report, please
contact Geoff Dean at


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