Sun Shines on B.C. Drywallers

Don Procter

September 2008

While Ontario loses its status as the economic engine of Canada and energy-rich Alberta revels in its moment as top dog, Canada’s western-most province can’t be overlooked for its strong role in the economy of the nation. Boosterism is riding high in British Columbia, where good times continue as the province prepares to host the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"We’re still pretty much in the midst of a building boom, partly because of the Olympics, and most people believe we will remain in a strong position for at least another year or two after that,” says Murray Corey, executive director of the B.C. Wall & Ceiling Association.

With that in mind, the timing is right for the opening of the association’s first wall and ceiling apprenticeship training center. Located in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, the 5,500 square-foot facility will house the BCWCA’s drywall installer program and other courses when it opens this fall. Until now, the association’s apprentices have been trained in rented facilities.

The light industrial building, purchased for $850,000, will also be the site of the association’s pilot for a drywall taping and finishing program, says Corey. Over the past year, the BCWCA has been working with CITO (the B.C. government’s new Construction Industry Training Organization) on the development of the pilot. It will be ready for a launch this fall. There hasn’t been any training for B.C. finishers for several years, and no course ever in the province has been on the scale of the comprehensive pilot program.

Getting the new drywall program off the ground has been anything but straightforward. Corey says written material on the subject collected over the years had to be reviewed, edited and formatted onto computer. A standard text (with drawings and illustrations) for students was created that can be updated as required.

"A huge amount of work had to be done to bring this altogether,” Corey says.

Meanwhile, the BCWCA’s program for wall and ceiling installers, which commenced in January 2007, has proven to be a success on all counts, Corey says. The course has more than met its original objective of training 50 students or so annually. It consists of four levels, 300 hours in-class and 4,500 hours in the field. Students typically take three years to complete the program and write provincial exams to qualify as journeyperson installers.

The installers’ program is different from most others in that it is set up on a part-time basis so students can continue to work full-time. Classes are held Thursday evenings and all day Fridays and Saturdays.

"It’s been pretty successful, although we get some resistance from students about Thursday nights because it is nearing the end of their work week, so we go a little easy on them,” Corey explains.

Also unusual is that the program is offered in three locations around the province so fewer students need to leave their place of residence to get training. The course is a Red Seal Program, which means students who pass provincial exams can work as full-fledged journeypersons in other Canadian provinces.

Corey says students only need a passing grade to qualify for a federal government grant that covers at least their out-of-pocket costs, including tuition fees of both programs totaling about $1,200. Tuition fees are calculated to cover the operating costs of the programs.

Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.