Mike Yorke has worked for almost 20 years in labour relations and as a project manager at some of the largest industrial construction projects ever built in Alberta – and he’s a firm believer in the importance of the newly created Industrial Construction Crew Supervisor (ICCS) program, especially given the evolving challenges workforce leaders are facing.
“The ICCS designation is important because it will help supervisors develop the ‘softer skills’ as they deal with tougher situations in the future, such as marijuana legalization and the retirements of older, experienced, trades workers,” he said.
Yorke, who was labour relations manager for the last six years during construction of the $8-billion Sturgeon Refinery, played a key role in helping to develop the designation, starting in 2007-2008.
The ICCS program was developed through a collaborative committee with the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) and the province’s trade unions, which Yorke chaired. There are now about 1,300 ICCS graduates.
The designation is recognized by Alberta Industry and Trade, with those who have it earning $1.50 to $2.00 more an hour.
In the past, tradespeople rose to assume supervisory positions after having worked at their trade for several years, gradually taking on more supervisory roles.
Now employers in Alberta are likely to turn first to holders of the designation, said Yorke.
“The advantage of the designation (for employers) is it creates a baseline of competence that employers can recognize when they hire someone in a supervisory capacity. This is the first such recognition in Canada and Alberta is leading the way,” he said.
“The designation has really taken off over the last three or four years.”
That’s partly because experienced tradespeople had more time on their hands with the slowdown in construction of new large industrial facilities such as oilsands projects, he said, but it’s also because there is a growing recognition of the benefits of completing the course among experienced tradespeople.
Those seeking to earn the designation must demonstrate that they have 1,000 hours of supervisory experience, as verified by employers, complete about 40 to 60 hours of online or in-class training, and achieve a grade of at least 70 percent on the ICCS examination.
The program is supported by all Alberta building trade unions and non-union bodies, including the Merit Contractors Association and the Christian Labour Association of Canada.
The ICCS program at this point is unique to Alberta, but Yorke said Ontario and other provinces are interested in adopting a similar designation.
Yorke, who was recently appointed to the Alberta Apprenticeship Board, said the training focuses on communication, active listening and leadership. Such training is increasingly necessary in an industrial workforce sector that will be dominated by millennials, he said.
“The millennials are different than what we [baby boomers] are used to,” he said. “They have different values.”
They are focused more on quality of life factors than finances, for one, meaning work plays a smaller role in their lives than it does for older workers.
Many millennials also use marijuana on a regular basis. That could become a serious issue, especially on industrial worksites where some of those employees operate potentially dangerous equipment, Yorke said.
“Already people show up with prescriptions (for marijuana) and they think it’s alright for them to have used marijuana recently.”
He expects that there will be increasing investment in technologies that provide a reliable test for marijuana impairment.
Despite the slowdown in the construction of new oilsands and other large industrial projects in Alberta, Yorke is also concerned about a future shortage of tradespeople, which will also make it complicated for supervisory personnel.
He said there has been a significant decline in the number of young people taking apprenticeships in the province, which, along with retirements of older tradespeople, could create worker shortages in many trades.
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