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Whether it is building infrastructure, getting goods from point a to point b, or providing important services, the trades and trades workers are an essential part of BC’s economic and social tapestry. In order to successfully meet the challenges posed by a post-pandemic world, trades education and trades workers must be supported. These important jobs require skilled trades people who go through training, many at public post-secondary institutions.

Apprenticeships are an essential part of trades training. They are a mix of classroom and paid on-the-job training, which teaches students all the theoretical parts of their trade with invaluable on-the-ground instruction in their chosen field. Apprenticeships are the historic foundation of trades and are a proven method of high-quality skills training that works. When the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC) was dissolved in 2003 and replaced with the ITA (Industry Training Authority), it took only 4 years to see apprenticeship completion rates drop by over 30%. Part of the drop in completion rates was tied to the gutting of supports for apprentices, including the removal of trades counsellors from post-secondary institutions. Those counsellors helped apprentices or future apprentices navigate and successfully manage technical class offerings across institutions and the province.

In addition to removing supports for apprentices, the previous BC government established a ‘BC model’ for trades training which was driven by the deregulation of skilled trades and the modularization of training and certification. Included in this change was the removal of compulsory trades, or trades that require certification to perform. This has allowed employers to hire underskilled workers without certification to do jobs like welding, plumbing, and automotive services while also taking advantage of their labor.

Evidence shows that the move away from compulsory trades has negatively impacted apprenticeship completion rates. Also with the modularization of trades, we have had a ‘narrowing and shallowing’ of the trades and have created a far less mobile workforce able to take their fulsome set of skills and apply it to new industries as the needs of the economy changes.

Students in trade programs must have the same academic and professional support enjoyed by students on other post-secondary tracks. In order to ensure parity between the trades and other programs, the government must put forward an apprenticeship completion strategy that is student-centered, and based on the evaluations and recommendations from independent assessments of the ITA system. Any student-centered strategy must include provisions for apprenticeship counselors being embedded in with the trade programs offered in each region, and working with institutional partners who provide support to trade students prior who are not yet apprentices.