With the creation of the territory’s new polytechnic university on the horizon, the NWT “must change the way it delivers its trades training,” one Yellowknife MLA says.
In the legislature on Monday – the start of Skilled Trades and Technology Week in Canada – Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said trades “don’t attract as many people as they used to” and many now look to other options.
Trades education must become more accessible across the territory, Johnson argued.
“Are there no journeypersons in your community?” he asked. “Well, why don’t we get a mobile trades program where we fly instructors out to provide six-month training programs in each region?
“Or why don’t we develop a distanced mentorship program, and put much more of our trades programming online?”
He further suggested that the territory ensure the new university’s curriculum focuses on “northern problems.”
The aim of this would be twofold, Johnson said: first, inspiring students to pursue the trades. Second, inspiring them to pursue those trades in the North.
“Right now, we use the Alberta curriculum, and we largely just copy and paste it,” he said. “As a result of this, some of the very unique building features we have in the North – and some of the things we need to prioritize, such as adapting to climate change – are not front-and-centre in our trades programs.
“In the transformation to a polytechnic, we can build a northern curriculum which will inspire our students to take them but will also attract other tradespeople who want to come here and become northern building specialists.”
Education minister RJ Simpson said the territory follows a national curriculum and doesn’t have much room to manoeuvre if students want to be certified across Canada.
Simpson cast doubt on the viability of a trades program hosted entirely online, given the hands-on nature of many professions.
Despite this, Simpson said, there are opportunities for “trades-related research” focusing on northern issues such as climate-specific building methods. He committed to reviewing options to make current apprenticeship programs more accessible across the territory.
Some of those options include a “roaming journeyperson” who can travel to different communities and mentor apprentices, or a collaboration with the NWT Housing Corporation and other departments to bring on more apprentices.
Johnson said the idea of a roaming journeyperson “excites” him. He conceded there needs to be a “practical, hands-on, in-person portion to getting any apprenticeship.”
He called on Simpson to extend pre-existing subsidies for businesses that have taken on apprentices, saying several constituents had complained that funding often runs out before the term is finished. Afterward, they struggle to keep apprentices on.
Simpson said he would “absolutely” take another look at the subsidy program, which was last updated in 2018.
“We heard people around the territory, and we tried to think about how we can take this pot of money that we have, that would only cover about a quarter of what we would need it to if we wanted to fund everyone,” he explained.
“The decision was made to spread it out over the early years.
“That being said, I am aware that there is a desire to change that and possibly expand it, so I am more than happy to look into that and hopefully expand this program in the future.”
According to Simpson’s statement in the legislature on Wednesday, 36 people have graduated from apprenticeship programs in the NWT this year.