In Canada, there are over 200 designated skilled trades in existence. Yet for every five employers who hire skilled tradespeople, only one will have an apprentice, even though an apprenticeship program can be the best way to build a business’s workforce.

According to Gary Herman, CEO of the Industry Trade Authority (ITA) in British Columbia, the three ways to get skilled tradespeople are to grow your own through apprenticeships, to poach them from other companies, or to import them. “We hear from employers who hire apprentices that they believe this is the best way to not only sustain but grow their businesses. The other models are unsustainable,” says Herman. “The common denominator we see is that these business owners tend to be tradespeople themselves or, in a larger company, the manager came up through the trades. It’s a cycle of giving back.”

Stephen Peel, Vice President of Operations at Ironside Design Manufacturing in Chilliwack, a family-owned business since 1914 that manufactures corrugated pipe forming equipment, remarks, “There is a shortfall of skills in the trades, and we feel it’s important to invest in apprentices in order to keep our industry growing and our business growing. We find that when we take the time to train an apprentice, we can motivate that person to stay with us and grow.”

A custom fit

While helping to ensure a company’s growth is a big advantage to sponsoring an apprentice, one of the biggest gains to be had is that an organization can train employees at an early stage on its business and how to best fit the needs of the employer. “Through mentoring, the employer can train the employee exactly in the way it wants to best execute the work and serve the business,” says Herman.

And, in a time when the industry faces unprecedented retirements, hiring apprentices is a good method to ensure successful succession planning. “As baby boomers retire, we need to backfill that knowledge before a company’s senior people are gone. It’s important to get that knowledge transfer in place now,” stresses Herman.

Another employer benefit of hiring an apprentice is that the Government of British Columbia has extended its Training Tax Credit program to 2017, giving companies who hire apprentices a refundable tax credit as a financial incentive.

Enabling growth in today’s economy

Skilled trades are the backbone of a knowledge-based economy. “Everything that is manufactured, built, or maintained is touched by the hands of skilled tradespeople every day,” says Herman. “It’s important to realize that in today’s knowledge economy, it’s the how-to economy that makes it happen.”