B.C. is on the cusp of a trades and skills shortage expected to grow in severity over the next three to four years.
While that shortfall in the job market has been talked about for years, the recession of the last four years has put a crimp in the system.
"Recession is always pretty cruel to apprenticeships and this one was no exception," said Kevin Evans, CEO of Industry Training Authority, a government agency responsible for apprenticeships and industry training programs.
Apprenticeship sponsors in B.C. dropped to 9,000 from a pre-recession level of 11,000 and they've rebounded only slightly since then, Evans said.
He'll be at TRU's Grand Hall Tuesday night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to encourage youth, their parents and employers to consider apprenticeships — creating them or filling them — to serve that need.
In the Thompson-Okanagan alone, thousands of job openings in skilled trades are predicted by 2020. By then, trades employment is expected to account for 13 per cent of all employment in the region.
"What's important is that we've got a heck of a lot of jobs to fill. We've really got to step up our game. It takes 10 years to get back to the pre-recession level, but we don't have 10 years. By 2015-2016, we'll start feeling the bite."
Unlike previous recessionary cycles, the aging demographic has become a significant factor in the labour shortfall as workers leave the trades or retire. B.C. hasn't experienced a trend of this magnitude before.
"It's really an opportunity for us to think about what it means to have a training culture in B.C."
Apprenticeships are not just a form of charity but a proven benefit to business. Evans cited one study showing that each dollar invested in apprenticeships returns $1.47 in value to a business. The four-year commitment allows them to expand their capabilities while preparing an apprentice for potentially lengthy service.
The ITA is focused particularly on under-utilized labour markets — women, aboriginal people and immigrants. Aboriginal participation in apprenticeships more than doubled between 2006 and 2011. In the past five years, it's spent $13 million to recruit more women and served 1,600.
With institutions such as TRU, the province is well equipped to meet the challenge, Evans added. B.C. has 16 post-secondary institutions offering skills and trades training compared to only two in Alberta.
In January, B.C. universities, including TRU, warned of looming skills shortage, predicting that nearly 19,000 jobs could go unfilled by 2020. The Research Universities Council of B.C. is calling for 11,000 trades-training spaces to be created over the next four years.