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Clark muddies waters around shipbuilders’ push for tradespeople

" This will give British Columbians the opportunity to seize the jobs in the marine industry," said Premier Christy Clark, announcing government support for shipbuilding job training.

The shipbuilding industry received a boost earlier this week, with a $550,000 government commitment to support development of specialized training programs for the shipbuilding industry.

But Premier Christy Clark's announcement muddied the waters around a worthwhile industry-led effort to ensure that the province has enough trained tradespeople. She left behind a trail of confusion about where the money would actually be spent. Also, she forgot to mention the government was only one of three partners which had contributed funds to the $1-million project.

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Ms. Clark announced the government's financial support for the project at Victoria's Camosun College earlier this week. The money was "to develop training strategies for workers within a new industry-led marine training centre," she states in a news release from her office.

B.C. does not have enough tradespeople. More than 1,000 openings for B.C.-based shipbuilding production workers will be available in 2013, according to a forecast in a confidential report cited in Ms. Clark's news release. An additional 6,800 jobs will be available if B.C.-based Seaspan Marine Corp. later this year wins a federal contract for new boats for combat, Coast Guard or fisheries-science use.

Tom Roemer, vice-president of strategic development at Camosun College, explained in an interview two days after the announcement how government money would funnel into the training programs.

The B.C. government spends around $100-million annually on trades-training in the province, he said. A provincial government Crown corporation, the B.C. Industry Training Authority, co-ordinates spending on training and apprenticeship programs, sets the standards and puts together the curriculum and exams.

However, the ITA has not been working with the shipbuilding industry. The trades are extremely specialized, and not enough people are involved to justify public funding.

A few years ago, the shipbuilding industry created the Resource Training Organization to develop standards and apprenticeship programs. The organization has plans for an industrial marine training and applied research centre, probably at the Esquimalt docks adjacent to Victoria, but no decision has been made on the location. The provincial funds cannot be used for construction of the proposed centre, Mr. Roemer said.

The provincial money, part of a fund that includes $200,000 from B.C. Ferries and $300,000 from Seaspan, will go to the RTO.

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The jobs ministry says the provincial funds are for development and delivery of programs for those entering the shipbuilding trades, for workers in other sectors who are switching into shipbuilding, and for management training. The funds will also be used to help in development of the proposed centre and its management.

Mr. Roemer said curriculum will be developed this summer and training could start in late fall, likely to be delivered by Camosun College, Royal Roads University and B.C. Institute of Technology.

Ms. Clark's announcement attracted media attention as the July 7 deadline approaches for the federal shipbuilding contracts. Seaspan is looking to the province to support its bid with a tax credit for infrastructure spending. The company's bid includes upgrades in its Vancouver and Victoria shipyards costing around $125-million. A Seaspan executive said new training programs would be necessary regardless of the outcome of the bid on the federal contracts.

Ms. Clark's remarks led to confusion in media reports about the role of Camuson College and whether her announcement was related to Seaspan's bid. Next time, she may want to leave announcements of this sort to Jobs Minister Pat Bell, who is probably better informed about ministry spending.

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