A sustained partnership between management and union forces with an eye to the future promises to bring higher standards to sheet metal work in Ontario. Recognizing that sheeting and decking, referred to alternatively as cladding and decking, requires distinct skills not currently covered in the provincial training curriculum for the sheet metal trade, OSM and the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers’ Conference have combined forces to apply to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to have it recognized as a registered trade. The most obvious benefit of having registered trades is their ability to provide the construction industry with professionally trained manpower. Apprentices wishing to join the trade are able to access specific and officially recognized training programs and, at the same time, may be eligible for government assistance through student loans and bursary allowances.
In 2008 OSM produced a comprehensive Cladding and Decking Reference Manual, working with the Construction Sector Council and Human Resources Development Canada and assisted by Canadian Sheet Steel Building Institute and the Construction Safety Association of Ontario to bring uniformity to the skills and practices used in sheeting and decking. The manual also set out relevant terms and established procedures from which lesson plans could be built to train cladding and decking installers, creating a foundation for developing a formal training program, effectively addressing a neglected area in the sheeting and decking sector.
At the same time, the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre owned by the Provincial Sheet Metal Workers Training Trust fund, a joint board of local unions and management members invested in equipment used in the sheeting and decking as the result of the Training Centre’s successful application to the Ontario government’s Skills Training Infrastructure Program in 2007-08. The Training Centre is particularly interested in formal accreditation for sheeting and decking training since a survey they commissioned revealed that approximately two-thirds of sheeters and deckers have no formal trades training whatsoever. Using the newly released Cladding and Decking Reference Manual, the PTTP is developing a curriculum to commence upgrade and new entrant training in this field of work. Anticipating the curricular need for Cladding and Decking the Training Centre had already incorporated and executed the necessary training structure into its building plan to support the formal designation proposal advanced by OSM and the Ontario Conference. Using the manual guidelines and consulting with engineers and experts in the subtrade, the Training Centre incorporated a structural design into its building reflecting appropriate specifications to deliver certified Cladding and Decking training.
With this foundation in place, the next logical step for OSM and OSMWRC was to approach the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to have cladding and decking designated a registered trade. For Tim Fenton business manager of the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers’ and Roofers’ Conference this is an important issues since his is the only trade union with the right to bargain for sheeters and deckers. “Regulation is long overdue.” The Ontario Conference represents 450 to 500 unionized sheeters and deckers currently working in the province. The industry has been using these workers without certification for far too long, he says. The chief problem is that there is no formal training. About 90% or more trade-related knowledge is learned on the job. “If you get good training – good for you – but, if not, you have to unlearn everything and there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get it right because until now, there have been no formal standards.” Clearly regulation and formal training will result in increased quality on the job. “With no formal credentials, workers don’t have the incentive to master a job the way they would if they were certified.” Fenton admits that taking the proposal to the ministry is not a ‘slam dunk’. “Other trades parties have an interest in this matter so it’s truly about partnership.” Here is one area where cooperation is the key to addressing an obvious need in the construction arena to insure that specialized sheeting and decking workers are trained to meet the demands of tomorrow.