Looking Back on 2018 and Looking Forward to 2019

2018 will most likely be remembered as a year of change, punctuated by an incoming Ontario government in spring and the announcement about the end of OCOT in November.

The Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), Apprenticeship Ratios, and Next Steps

construction workers silhouetteThe passing of Bill 47 on Nov 21 meant many changes for labour law in Ontario, and will mean the closure of OCOT in 2019. A new system to regulate the trades will need to be developed, and the IBEW stands ready to be part of that discussion, as we mentioned in this article answering questions about Bill 47.

In particular, discussions about apprenticeship ratios have been reopened. There is concern from parts of the construction industry about the number of skilled trades available to do the work, especially as the baby boomer generation retires.

But blindly taking on more and more apprentices won’t help. Because the electrical trade is so complex, it takes an apprentice about five years to become a journeyperson. It’s a journey many in the non-union sector don’t complete. As the IBEW has arguably the highest completion ratio for its apprentices (95% or better, depending on the local), we can share the not-so-secret keys to our success including:

  • We don’t treat apprentices as cheap disposable labour.
  • We take smart candidates with good grades in high school math, physics, and English.
  • We support them on their career path.

We’re looking forward to sharing our insights with the rest of the industry, and to any who may not have all the facts yet.

Taking Education Further

electrical apprentices at IBEW Local 115No other organization provides better training than the IBEW, and this year our locals raised the bar yet again.

As Bill Pearse, Business Manager of Kingston’s Local 105 put it, “Our apprentices are learning that they can do excellent quality work in the same time it takes non-union workers to do a second-rate or even unsafe job.”

Sarnia’s Local 530 opened a new dedicated training hall in October, joining the majority of locals who already have such facilities.

Whether a local has a separate facility or not, dedicated training staff and programs teach advanced skills not only to apprentices, but journeypersons who want to learn about new technologies like LiFi (wireless smart “light fidelity” systems).

Other locals expanded on existing training programs. Thunder Bay’s Local 402 embraced virtual reality training, and Local 105 in Hamilton became the only certified Training Delivery Agent for the Basic and Advanced Network Cabling Specialist programs in Ontario.

Embracing Advanced New Technologies

Technology is changing at a fantastic pace, and there are some very exciting new advantages coming to our communities. The internet of things (IoT), microgrids, renewable power generation, and communications technology are promising both more convenience and more energy efficiency. Our locals are showing they are on the leading edge of these emerging technologies.

Electric vehicle charging station at IBEW Local 586Local 586 in Ottawa now has EV charging stations both for training purposes and to allow members of the community to visit the hall and charge up their vehicles. As electric vehicles are projected to number over 125 million by 2030, wiring the recharging infrastructure to support them is going to become a priority.

Meanwhile in Kitchener, Local 804 has not only purchased additional new equipment for its training program, it has a new app for members so that they can get information on upcoming jobs and bid for them right on their phones.

Safety

The electrical trade is inherently dangerous, and nothing is more important than maintaining the safety of electrical workers and the public. We must never forget that behind every regulation, there are many tragic stories.

Mark Graham former electrical apprenticeEven the regulations that we have are not enough to ensure every worker comes home safe at the end of the day. According to a 2017 report, “In Canada, more than 450 workers were killed and 63,000 were injured over the last ten years. These injuries cost the Canadian society nearly $19.8 billion dollars each year in health care expenditures and reduced productivity, hospitalizations, disabilities and premature deaths.”

The IBEW CCO and our contractor partners in the ECAO have never ceased to advocate for safety as something that must not only be discussed, but actively enforced. Videos like this one, that dramatically show what can happen without proper training and supervision, help those unfamiliar with the issues understand what’s at stake.

Few incidents underscored the need for workplace safety more than when Jay Lebert of Local 773 saved the life of an unconscious non-union pipe fitter in June.

Skills Ontario Competition and Trades Showcase

Skills Ontario 2018 Electrical division volunteers

We’re proud of our trade, and love taking opportunities to get young people excited about making a trade their first career choice. This year volunteers from Local 353, Local 105, and Local 804 participated at the IBEW/ECAO career booth at Skills Ontario, talking to students and giving them some fun hands-on activities.

Every year Toronto’s Local 353 takes a leadership role in the planning, design, construction, set up, and tear down of the electrical competition, booth, and student activities at the Skills Ontario conference. They work with stakeholders from the Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group, and employers to ensure the competitions are challenging and fair.

This year, as in almost every year, IBEW apprentices not only enjoyed a fantastic learning experience by participating in the competition, but brought medals home as well.

Community Support

IBEW Local 530 volunteer Celebration of Lights

One of the hallmarks of the IBEW is our enthusiasm for giving back to our communities.

From working on Habitat for Humanity builds to participating in fundraisers to giving generous donations, there are a variety of ways we show our support.

Local 353’s Next Gen Committee holds an annual dodgeball tournament to help the Movember Foundation, for example, and Local 530 sends a team to cycle long distances for multiple sclerosis every summer. When Andrew White, a member of Local 353, organized Katie’s Ride, a motorbike ride for the Terry Fox Foundation, many participated and still more gave generously.

Other examples abound, often in partnership with our ECAO contractors. Local 120’s Business Manager John Gibson organized the donation of 45 sets of quality electrical tools to shop classes in local high schools. When Modern Niagara organized a massive Community Day effort in cities across Canada, IBEW members answered the call. Every year, Local 530’s Next Gen committee and other members help create an important tourist attraction, the Sarnia Lambton Celebration of Lights.

The list goes on. There were additional food drives, suit drives, golf tournaments, and donations to help hospitals, cancer research, and more.

Building on the Good Things

Through it all, we’re proud of the fact that our members continued to work hard, advance their skills, and help great causes.

Whether we’re providing safe, reliable electrical work or helping to train the electricians of the future, we’ll continue to be a strong part of Ontario.