When it opened its doors in 2006, the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre ushered in a whole new era for apprentice training in the unionized sheet metal sector in the province.  Hard work and intelligent planning have resulted in the development of a centre that can honestly boast that it is the best equipped TDA for the sheet metal trade in Canada.  Over $820,000 worth of state of the art training equipment, purchased with capital grant funding from the Ontario government’s Skills Training Infrastructure Program (STIP) supports its progressive – and growing – curriculum.  Not surprisingly, the majority of apprentices entering the trade in the province designate the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre as their preferred TDA choice.  To date, the Training Centre has delivered training to close to 492 apprentices.

However, not content to sit on its laurels, the Provincial Training Centre applied for fresh funding in 2008 from the Ontario Skills Training Enhancement Program (OSTEP) to implement one of its key policy objectives and to develop new curricular material for an area of identified need, specifically for skills upgrading for apprentices and sheet metal workers to Gas Technician 1 Level.  Once again its vision and persistence in securing the best for Ontario apprentices and journeypersons has been vindicated.  In late December 2008, Kevin Rabishaw executive director of the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre received a letter from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities informing him that the Centre’s application for funding had met with success.  The Provincial Training Centre received a total funding allocation of $705,682, including an infrastructure funding allocation of $319,760 and $385,922 for associated equipment costs.  The funding enables the Training Centre to acquire needed equipment to deliver training to apprentice and journeyperson Sheet Metal Workers that will make them eligible for Gas Technician certification from the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), a certification now a requirement for sheet metal workers who install and connect venting to gas burners.

Historically sheet metal workers fabricated and installed venting from gas burners although they did not actually connect the vents to burners.  However, TSSA introduced Reg 215/01, a requirement that workers who install such venting must have the appropriate gas technician certification.  As the Provincial Training Centre noted in its application: “It is both important and urgent that the Training Centre upgrade the skills of current journeypersons and also enrich the training of apprentices so as to meet the new and higher standard of technical competence required to install venting from gas burners.”  Thanks to the OSTEP grant, the Centre is now empowered to bring the sheet metal trade into line with current regulatory standards and requirements in this area of construction.

Until now, sheet metal contractors have been forced to either pass on work that involves installing venting systems on gas burners or to incur the added cost (and time delays) of finding and hiring a worker from another trade who holds the requisite certification to complete the connection of the venting system to the burner.  The Training Centre realized that the lack of proper certification for sheet metal workers both reduced the competitiveness and productivity of sheet metal employers and limited the overall employability of sheet metal workers.  By addressing this gap, the new training model counteracts these problems directly increasing the amount of work that sheet metal contractors can undertake, increasing the employability of Sheet Metal Workers at the same time raising the level of quality and breadth of training itself.

The new funding will enable the Training Centre to deliver all three levels of Gas Technician certification:
G-1:  any BTU rating
G-2:  up to 400,000 BTU rating
G-3:  must be under general supervision of a G-1 or G-2
G-1 TSSA certification, the highest certification, is a requirement specific to the ICI sector and is specified for most ICI applications.  To qualify for this certification, applicants must progressively hold G-2 and G-3 certifications.
The Centre’s unique training model, particular to the background of sheet metal workers, is entirely new and not otherwise available.  Classroom training and hands on practice will instruct sheet metal workers in the use of instrumentation that had not been part of their standard trades training, but is essential to working in an environment with combustible gases.  Consistent with TSSA’s mandate, instruction will emphasize worker and public safety requirements when working in an environment with combustible gases.

Apprentices and journeypersons will use the most advanced equipment available to learn about circuitry systems, gas distribution systems, venting and air supply systems, and the safety relationships between them.  As Rabishaw notes, “All of our training display boards are designed for hands-on practice.  Appliances and systems are modified for hands on access to components.  There will be a sufficient number of meters and gauges to allow all students to work with the equipment directly.”  Rabishaw is proud that the Training Centre’s on-site capacity will directly benefit current apprentices as well as an estimated 2209 sheet metal journeypersons who will be able to access training in night school classes and on a weekends.

“Our ability to offer upgraded training is vital to our policy objectives.”  Noting that natural gas is the dominant fuel used in both the residential and ICI sectors, Rabishaw referred to the 2008 disaster at Sunrise Propane in Toronto.  “That incident trained a spotlight on the need for greater rigour in regulation.  It goes without saying that rigorous competency standards are core to any regulatory strategy.”  The OSTEP funding allows the Training Centre to do its part in keeping the sheet metal industry ‘on board,’ ensuring that its apprentices and journeypersons are trained to the highest TSSA standards of competence.  “I am grateful that the Ministry recognized the importance of an industry labour partnership model in construction trades training.  Ontario will benefit from the largest pool of exceptionally skilled and trained sheet metal workers in the country,” Rabishaw predicts – a remarkable ‘next step’ for the Ontario Sheet Metal Workers Training Centre, in operation now for just over two years.