Wider Horizons

Dave McLellanIt’s been 25 years since Dave McLellan graduated from Lethbridge College as a journeyman electrician, a trade he later taught on campus for eight years. Today, he’s a supervisor for Apprenticeship and Industry Training’s South Division in Lethbridge. Despite the economic downturn, he sees a future in the trades for those willing to obtain the knowledge.

Wider Horizons: It would seem to the average Albertan the increasing complexity of trades requires an education. Yet, those who follow a trade are often less revered than those who enter professional fields.

Dave McLellan: The perception has changed somewhat in the last 10 to 15 years, but we still have a ways to go. I still see educators in southern Alberta promoting colleges and universities as the way to go and turning underachievers towards the trades. That philosophy just won’t work anymore. A person who was an auto mechanic 30 years ago couldn’t do that job today without further training. Some cars have 15 to 20 computers on board. Trades people need a strong education behind them.

WH: Is it a good time to get into the trades?

DM: If employers are hiring, it’s not a bad time to get in. We’re somewhat short of jobs, but that’s trade specific, Alberta employers went overboard on welders during the so-called boom, and they became the largest trade in the province. Now that’s changed and welders have left the trades and are doing other things. But we may experience a shortage again when the economy improves. During the boom, we were processing upwards of 65 apprenticeship applications a month here; now, the average is still above 50. We’re still getting applications and those people are working for somebody. It’s not as bleak as some believe. We’re always going to go through economic cycles, but there’s a wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in the trades and technologies. That’s a key reason why the Alberta government committed $24 million to World Skills Calgary 2009 and another $1.7 million to transport Grade 9 and 10 students to the competition.

WH: How tough is it to break in?

DM: It’s hard for an inexperienced person because employers don’t have the time to train them in good times and don’t have the work for them in bad times. It’s really a matter of persistence and timing. I think pre-employment training helps. It’s also often easier for second-generation trades people; they’ve likely picked up a lot of skills at home.

WH: Your office enforces the Alberta Apprenticeship Act to ensure apprentices are receiving the proper training on the job and classroom knowledge required to become journeymen. How good is Alberta’s system?

DM: Generally, it’s looked upon as one of the best in Canada. We’re turning out journeypersons respected around the world. Many can step into work in other countries based on their Alberta training. That’s not true of skilled workers coming to Alberta from another country, who are assessed and validated individually. On the other hand, trades and occupation certificates issued in Canada are generally respected by other Canadian provinces or territories.

WH: Why is the apprenticeship concept important?

DM: To ensure those working in key trades have the proper training and to pass on the knowledge. To become a journeyperson, you have to have experience in your field and be well-rounded. It ensures projects are built safely, vehicles are maintained properly and our meals are prepared safely. The public requires and deserves that protection.

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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