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NAIT proposes new apprenticeship training delivery model

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
The WMC was recently asked to review a new delivery model for the Cabinetmaker Apprenticeship program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).
With the adoption of Alberta’s new Skilled Trades and Apprenticeship Education Act, as a key post-secondary training provider, NAIT is striving to meet industry’s needs and to provide the most value to the apprentices they train. Over time, they received consistent feedback regarding the skilled labour shortage and the challenges associated with cabinetmaker apprentices coming for technical training. They are well aware that employers struggle to manage workflow and operations while employees are attending the required two-month training periods. At the same time, apprentices experience financial pressures from losing their normal pay and the unpredictability of EI funding.
With this in mind, NAIT is commencing preparations to adopt a new, though not untried, model of delivery, beginning in the fall of 2023. It is a model of delivery that is in use in many parts of Europe and has been employed with great success for decades.
Traditionally, NAIT has offered technical training in eight-week blocks, complemented by 10 months of on-the-job training with the employer. This traditional method has worked for decades, but the recent labour shortages have made this much more challenging and has got people thinking about alternatives to better suit the current environment. The question was asked - is there a better way? NAIT thinks so.  
They are proposing shortening the time for technical training from eight weeks to one week. Under their proposed model, the apprentice will receive the same technical training they would in eight weeks, but in one-week blocks, scheduled over eight months, with three-week blocks in between. For these three 
weeks, the apprentice would be back in the shop or on-site, working and earning normally. The training year would run from September until the 
end of April.
This model offers the student time to digest information learned and refine new skills in “bite-sized pieces,” setting them up for success. The financial impact to the apprentice will be tempered, as well as the impact to the operations of the business. Often one of the by-products of a long absence from the workplace is a disconnect between employer and employee. A reduced period of absence will help alleviate this effect.
Another important change NAIT wishes to implement is to shift their shop class structure from a project-oriented outcome (one big project) to a process-oriented outcome. What this would do is allow instructors and students to spend more time on practical skills (machine maintenance, installation, jig making, etc.) and explore some topics more in-depth than currently possible.
This new delivery model would have no impact on someone’s ability to attain their Red Seal designation. They would be learning the same program content, just in different chunks – the key combination of classroom, lab/workshop and on-the-job training components are all still there.
While still in the discussion process, this proposal came out of discussions with industry and specific feedback on the proposal has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Companies view the apprentices not as cheap labour, but as the highly trained workers they require and when on the job they receive exposure to all the different challenges they will face when they get their Red Seal designation. Speaking to one industry member who trained in Germany, when they started their apprenticeship, they were in school once a week, then on-the job for the balance of the week. The school component consisted of a half-day of theory and a half-day of practical training. This eventually evolved into the “one week in school” delivery model.    
Negotiations are underway to explore what impacts this might have on the current funding available through EI as well as the various grants available. All parties are motivated to work out these questions so that the students continue to get needed supports. This is important to take advantage of the benefits available from this proposed change in delivery.
NAIT understands that this represents a profound break with a traditional form of delivery that has been in use for decades. It can be difficult to look at a problem in a new way, but they hope people will give this new direction a chance. They suggest that if we want our trade to grow and adapt with changing markets and technologies, we must be prepared to think “outside the box” for solutions.  
 For more information and discussion, feel free to contact Roger Cloutier, program chair, cabinetmaker, glazier, millwork and carpentry, construction department,
School of Skilled Trades, NAIT would be pleased to hear from you. His email is rogerc@nait.ca

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