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Thousands of skilled training dollars going unused in Okanagan, Kamloops

Image Credit: Pexels/Mikael Blomkvist

There's a real shortage of skilled workers in the construction and manufacturing industries in Kamloops and the Okanagan.

The BC Construction Association reported the number of skilled tradespeople in the province fell by 4% last year, yet Okanagan College is struggling to find enough people willing to become apprentices, despite the federal government offering up to $10,000 per person as a hiring bonus.

“One of the biggest things that employees need – from hearing from the apprentices coming through the college – is housing,” Jessica Pak, apprentice hiring project coordinator with the college, told

“It’s really hard to create a stable ground here because there’s just no places for them to live or rent because it’s such a high cost.”

READ MORE: Southern Interior construction industry facing serious issues

Last year the federal government offered funding of $5,000 to employers for each apprentice they hired. The amount can be doubled if the apprentice is a woman, Indigenous, has disabilities, is a newcomer to Canada, LGBTQ2 or a visible minority.

One example of that is Fedir Solovei who moved to Vernon after Russia invaded his native Ukraine last year.

“Highly accomplished as an engineer in Ukraine, and with some experience in general construction, Fedir enjoys creating projects with wood and noted the difference in the use of wood in BC construction practices,” reads an article about him written by Okanagan College’s media department. “That interest led Fedir to apply for a position with Vernon’s Thompson and Sons Construction as a carpenter’s helper where he was hired immediately, finding a supportive environment where he could take control of his future and get into the workforce.”

The company received the full $10,000 federal grant, which can be used in any way the employers see fit, such as wage assistance, tools, training or housing.

Okanagan College got $3 million in funding that runs through until the end of March 2024. So far, it has paid for about 100 apprentices and the college hopes to double that.

"There just are not enough apprentices," the college's Pak said.

Many other organizations also qualified for the funding so there is strong competition for apprentices within the Okanagan. Other organizations are also having challenges meeting their targets there, Pak said.

As a result, the college expanded its offerings into the Kamloops and Shuswap regions.

“Our college relations team is actually working on a story from one of our employers in Kamloops who has hired a paraplegic to work for his custom framing company,” Pak said in an email. “I’m still working with the employer to get the necessary documents so I can hand out the funding to him. The employer plans to use the funding to accommodate the apprentice in the field in any way possible.”

There are 39 construction and manufacturing trades that qualify for the funding, ranging from boiler maker and sprinkler fitter to the more traditional carpenters and plumbers and even tower crane operators.

Given the shortage of labour, employers who have gone to the college to speak to entry level classes are suggesting wages starting around $30 an hour rather that the traditional low $20s, Pak said. They are also offering benefits.

While some trades, such as electricians, are looking for people who have some training others don’t require any prior experience.

Apprentices generally take in-school training for five to 10 weeks through four levels to get their red seal certification.

They can collect employment Insurance while at school and can get up to $4,000 paid out after completing the various levels of training. The full apprenticeship usually takes about four years.

“We’re targeting a lot of the small business, meaning they have anywhere from one to less than 100 employees and typically it’s probably around 20,” Pak said. “Those individuals just don’t have the admin side of things to really know what’s going on around here so we’re trying to do a simple search, school search and advertise locally to get to those individuals who, more than likely, just have no idea that this is available.”

For more information on the program, go here or contact Jessica Pak via email here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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