Kootenays set up a plan for skills training

Taskforce of industry, educators, First Nations and employees comes together to solve shortage of skilled labour in the Kootenays

In an effort to fill current and future vacancies for skilled labour jobs, the Kootenay Regional Workforce Table has put together a skills training plan to better align with the needs of local industry and trades.

The table brought together key leaders from industry, employers, labour, First Nations, training service providers, economic development organizations, educators and others in order to identify where the key opportunities are for the region.

The table is the third of its kind in B.C. to create a region-led plan, called the Kootenay skills training plan. The plan focuses on matching training to local jobs, which could allow people in the region to take advantage of significant economic development opportunities that exist in B.C.

The College of the Rockies (COTR) acted as the central organization that co-ordinated the table, said Doug McLachlan, vice-president of education at COTR. Selkirk College in the West Kootenay was an equal partner, with COTR as the lead.

“So we basically co-ordinated the thing, any of the consultancy, the labour market research, making sure we had all the members of the committee and setting up the meetings – all of that sort of stuff,” McLachlan said.

They looked at labour market needs in the local area to see if they matched with the current approach.

“The training that we do, is that enough to meet the needs? Is there other training that needs to be done?” he explained. “So to take all those employment market needs and then mesh it with the actual training to make sure it’s aligned.”

McLachlan said the idea was to look at where the needs are going to be in the next couple of years and then focus on building to that.

The research behind the skills training plan is mainly focused on the trades education side. They found that both colleges in the Kootenays do provide training that will meet the needs of industry.

“I think it’s starting to show with industry that we need to communicate and talk to industry about any large projects and things like that,” McLachlan said.

“We’re focusing our training to meet those needs, so let’s say if there is going to be a need for heavy-duty mechanics, then do we need to perhaps adjust our training plan to train more heavy-duty mechanics?”

He said the discussions have created an awareness on both the education side and the business side of what they have to offer.

“I guess there wasn’t really a lot of surprises, because we have fairly good contacts with industry and business,” he said. “We know that there’s a shortage of heavy-duty mechanics. But again, you can’t produce a heavy-duty mechanic overnight either. It’s a long process. That’s one of the challenges.”

McLachlan said they also hope to increase the willingness from industry to take on apprentices.

“You have to give people the opportunity,” he said. “You can give them the first year of training, but then you have to get an apprenticeship. Everybody wants the journeyman – the person who is finished everything – but the reality is it’s going to take you four years to finish that.”

To follow up on the plan, McLachlan said they would continue to have those discussions with business and industry. He said they did that before, but the plan made the colleges realize that they have to be even closer. On the education side, COTR and Selkirk College are also in discussions on what training they can offer to complement each other.

“We’ve had some of those initial discussions and we’ll be starting those meetings in the fall,” he said.

McLachlan said it’s been a useful exercise.

“I think the information that we’ve gathered is very relevant,” he said. “It’s relevant to our region. Businesses and industry were all very honest and open and straightforward about what’s needed. I think that’s the good thing about colleges. We’re able to respond to the needs of business and industry relatively quickly. That’s where we need to focus our energy and effort.”