Apprenticeship programs in Brandon, Winnipeg aim to fill gaps, boost diversity in trades

A Brandon organization is making changes to its apprenticeship program in an effort to make it easier for small and medium-sized businesses in southwestern Manitoba to apply for funding, and to help address labour shortages.

The Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation launched its apprenticeship incentive project in mid-September, but it’s recently been streamlined to allow for a simpler application process that requires only one form, instead of multiple forms, said apprentice co-ordinator Folashade Oshosanya.

“We are really very passionate about helping smaller businesses, particularly in Brandon,” she said. “We are trying to  help them to get more funds to expand their team … and get more money.”

Manufacturing and construction industry employers with up to 499 employees can receive funding through the program, which is federally funded, to take on a first-year apprentice.

Businesses can qualify for $5,000 for an apprentice and an additional $5,000 for hiring apprentices from equity-deserving groups, including women, BIOPC people and newcomers. The program is capped at two apprentices per business.

A woman wearing a hoodie with her hands in her pockets stands in front of a bright background.
Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation apprentice co-ordinator Folashade Oshosanya says the organization’s apprenticeship program application has been streamlined. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Around 20 businesses have applied to the program to date, Oshosanya said. About 80 per cent are Brandon-based, but there are also employers in Rivers, Winnipeg and Thompson who have applied.

Ben Wiebe Construction in Brandon brought on two apprentice carpenters through the program, said controller Jeanette Hudon.

The business is heading into its slow winter season, and would be unlikely to keep the two apprentices on without the funding, she said. There are also the impacts of COVID-19 recovery and rising inflation costs to contend with, said Hudon.

“Costs are rising across the board, so it makes it harder to find that profit … but these incentives definitely help make things more manageable,” she said.

“It helps to prevent costs from being cut in areas that we need to continue to support.”

While the apprentices are not necessarily skilled labour, they still work in areas that need help, she said, and the program offers them the first step in becoming skilled labourers.

‘Huge shortage of skilled trades’

Winnipeg-based First Peoples Development Inc., which focuses on removing barriers to First Nations people’s involvement in the labour force through training, started running its own apprenticeship program in June, using the same federal funding as Brandon’s.

Executive director Joan Harris-Warren says the funds will help businesses expand staffing and cushion the impact of inflation by providing extra income for operational costs.

People dressed in construction worker gear stand in front of cardboard boxes.
Apprentices and journeypersons supported by funding through First Peoples Development Inc. The organization’s goal is to help train people for sustainable employment to improve their economic situation, says executive director Joan Harris-Warren. (Photo submitted by Joan Harris-Warren)

The program particularly offers an important opportunity for women, Indigenous people, LGBTQ+ people and other groups to “set a foundation” and continue on to work in the trades, she said.

“COVID disproportionately affected them, so this is a program that can … now help them with their recovery” by helping them land a job, said Harris-Warren.

Under the federal government’s funding guidelines for the apprenticeship programs, there are currently 39 trades that are eligible for apprencticeship support.

But First Peoples Development wants the federal government to consider including apprentices in other industries that are essential to Manitoba, including the agriculture industry, which is facing a potential worker shortage in the coming years.

The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council predicts an agri-food workforce shortfall of 123,000 by 2029 in Canada.

“There’s a huge shortage of skilled trades,” Harris-Warren said.

“Our ultimate goal … is to train individuals and to work towards, you know, sustainable employment for them to improve their economic situation.”