B.C. Wallers Revving Up

Don Procter

March 2007

While Alberta’s economic boom has made many headlines over the past couple of years in Canada, the economy of the country’s western-most province has quietly taken off. The B.C. Construction Association projects a record $107 billion worth of construction projects will be built through to 2014 in British Columbia.

It is an unprecedented boom in B.C., ignited by the Winter Olympics, which the province will host in 2010.

That message hasn’t been lost on the B.C. Wall & Ceiling Association. Over the last few years, the association has been developing an apprenticeship training program for the wall and ceiling installers its member contractors will need during brisk times.

The program, which commenced in January with 50 students enrolled, could prove to be a model for others in Canada. What sets it apart from many trade apprenticeships programs is that rather than impose a full-time block of classes on apprentices, classes are part-time (Thursday evenings and all-day Fridays and Saturdays) so students can continue to hold down jobs in the field.

Another distinction is that the course is offered in three locations (Vancouver, Victoria and in B.C. interior at Kelowna).

"We’ve downloaded the training to local communities where we have enough critical mass to justify a course,” explains Murray Corey, executive director of the BCWCA.

Corey says the course is based on the successful pilot model developed by the BCWCA Training Standards Committee. The committee of ten members put in hundreds of volunteer hours over a two-year period to develop the pilot which provided training for 50 apprentices.

The curriculum is comprehensive. Students learn to assemble and install non-load bearing steel studs, interior and exterior gypsum products, suspension systems for metal lath and plaster, and backer board and rainscreen systems for exterior stucco products. The course also teaches acoustical, metal linear and specialty ceilings plus windload and axial load bearing steel stud systems in residential, commercial and high-rise construction in conjunction with composite floor systems.

Students go through four levels of in-school training, totaling 300 hours plus another 150 hours of self-study. Typically, apprentices sign up for two levels a year. To qualify for certification (journeyperson), students must complete 4,500 hours of work in the field.

Corey says the course has been well received and there is a growing waiting list to get in to the next round later in the spring. "In the second round, we have filled up with 50 more students, many of whom are from the same contractors, which I believe is an endorsement of the program,” Corey says.

The course will also be offered again in the fall. "Our plans are to train about 50 new apprentices per year for the next several years, and we can easily ramp up to meet a greater demand if it is there,” he adds.

There is a significant need for trades training like BCWCA’s course. "We happen to be on the cusp of an unprecedented building boom,” Corey says. "There is a great demand on our work force, and it is happening at a time when we’re seeing many workers nearing retirement age.”

Keith Sashaw, executive director of the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, says among the high profile projects under way in the city are the $470 million (Cdn.) new convention center downtown on Coal Harbour and the $1.7 billion rapid transit link between downtown and the international airport. The 2010 Winter Olympics will see between $550 million and $600 million worth of facilities constructed.

About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.