Reader Opinion On Construction Trades – “It takes a 2-year trade diploma, a 1 year co-op, and a 4 year apprenticeship to become a fully licensed plumber. This skews the supply and demand curve and allows older workers to bid up their wages.”

DonDWest, a 31 year old Canadian, left this opinion post regarding construction standards as a comment at VREAA 9 Feb 2013. Headlined here as food for thought and fodder for debate:

“Shoddy and overpriced construction/engineering is a big problem in Canada, but I have a different take on what’s the cause. Not to sound like a Republican, but I believe corrupt unions have played a large part. I’ve experienced this first hand from a “young” person trying to enter the trades and then realizing the traditional route to getting in the trades is now economically infeasible at my age (31 years old).

Speaking of leaks, for example, it takes a 2-year trade diploma, a 1 year co-op, and a 4 year apprenticeship in my province just to become a fully licensed plumber. That’s the equivalent of a PhD equivalent level education in terms of time spent. No offense to the plumber, but you’re just a plumber, it shouldn’t take over 7 years to get licensed.
I don’t know about you, but starting a plumbing career at age 40, considering these are physical jobs where the retirement age is much sooner, doesn’t seem economically feasible. I laugh at people who tell guys now entering their late 20′s to early 30′s to “just get a trade” if you’re having difficulty breaking out of the low wage service sector mould.

What the unions have done is significantly convince the government to raise the barriers of entry into the trades for our young. This skews the supply and demand curve and allows older workers (who are mostly baby boomers) to bid up their wages. Ironically, this doesn’t result in better quality work, as there’s less competition coming from the young pressurizing the older workers to back up their wages. The older workers know their jobs are secure and this reflects in their work that’s poorly completed at a snail’s pace.

Oddly enough, due to the incidents of shoddy construction that result from this corruption, this is used by the unions as further leverage that the government needs to increase the levels of qualification in order to enter the trades. The unions created the problem, and their solution is to further reinforce the problem by upgrading credentials on the young, because perpetuating the problem is profitable for the unions and their workers. If the government just took a look at the average age of a construction worker and engineer today – they could easily see that the problem isn’t newbies coming on the scene messing things up.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if a young person wants to enter the trades, he is better off taking the small business route right away. He could start small by restoring old houses in rural Canada for example. I doubt it will take him 7 years just to figure it out, and he won’t be in so much debt due to education requirements, nor will he have to spend years upon years listening to condescending baby boomers that will only serve to hurt his confidence.”

Whatever measures are being taken to ensure sound construction standards in the lower mainland, they don’t appear to be working very well. Witness the tarps, even on buildings constructed after the leaky-condo scandals.
Obviously there have to be some basic standards to which the trades adhere. Over and above that, it is ironically likely that fewer restrictions to entry, and more competition (along with greater consumer expectations, and greater accountability for work quality), may well result in a better quality of construction than we are currently having to tolerate.
– vreaa

32 responses to “Reader Opinion On Construction Trades – “It takes a 2-year trade diploma, a 1 year co-op, and a 4 year apprenticeship to become a fully licensed plumber. This skews the supply and demand curve and allows older workers to bid up their wages.”

  1. Myself being a 31 year old journeyman I have been in my trade since the age of 19.

    It is not the unions that we should blame it much bigger than that.
    Like when I was in high school there was no push for us to go into trades only university or collage. For some reason being a tradesman is looked down on in society sometimes.
    When looking back to my graduating class of around 65 I think three people became journeyman tradespeople.

  2. Don't worry, be Carnival

    if you’re 31 years old, just be patient. Soon Boomers will start to drop like flies. Street upon street of empty homes. Don’t worry about trying to fix them all. I heard a rumour the colleges will be offering diplomas for Dry Dock Cruise Ship maintenance. One of these babies can house 5000 people. Homeless problem solved! And not one day worried about leaky roofs.

    • It’s ridiculous that we have to wait for the boomers to die before we can get on with our lives. The boomers are fighting hard to hold on to their youth and I bet many will live to ripe old ages. Many boomers will remain active, youthful, and working in their careers well into their old age. Yes, some boomers have financially destroyed themselves. But overall, many boomers still hold a great deal of our society’s wealth. Those boomers who are rich will use their money to delay death and aging at all costs.

      The first wave of boomers just turned 65 in 2012. But most baby boomers are still in their mid to late 50s so they have quite a bit of living still to do. Life expectancy in Canada is 82. Boomers may live even longer than that. I wouldn’t expect the baby boomers to start dropping like flies for at least another 10 or 15 years, maybe 20 years.

      So someone who is 31 today has to wait until their 40s or 50s before they have a hope of a decent career. And they have to do in the wake of a huge housing crash. From age 45 to 65, how is someone supposed to pay off student loans, recover from the housing crash (if they bought recently with leverage), and save for retirement to the point where you don’t even need CPP and OAS by the time you reach old age (because we know it won’t be there for us when we get old)?!?!?! Most people I know in their 30s are struggling just to pay the rent. This generation is so screwed.

      • Don’t forget that with the dying off of the boomer generation, we will have a massive transfer of wealth due to inheritances. Hopefully that won’t just be a fist full of IOUs

      • Good one

      • Realtor behavior

        That’s why BC has just passed the “assisted killing law” to help trigger the generation change! Plus, cutting funds for healthcare can also work to that end! Just wondering is it time to leave BC?

  3. “I laugh at people who tell guys now entering their late 20′s to early 30′s to “just get a trade” if you’re having difficulty breaking out of the low wage service sector mould.”

    I think he makes a good point. Also, if you already have student loans, it can be difficult if not impossible to go back to school in your 30s to learn a trade. Also, I think many of the baby boom generation don’t understand the lack of motivation that starts to set in. Once you’ve reached your 30s, you want a grown-up job–especially if you have a degree (even if it is an arts degree). We always hear how unemployment rates in Canada and the US are going down because people are becoming demoralized and aren’t even bothering to look for work. But we never hear the human stories behind those statistical revisions. I can say from experience that after 20 years of part-time service sector low wage employment and under-employment relative to experience and education and time available to work, you do start to lose motivation to keep trying for a job that will enable upward social mobility. I was more motivated when I was starting out as a teen–I actually was naive enough to think that if I worked hard I might have a shot at some standard of living above subsistence After 20 years of seeing your motivation, your hard work, and your efforts not being rewarded, you want to give up. You start thinking about where can I sign up for welfare? Maybe I should pick up an addiction and then get labeled disabled and go on welfare for life. An added benefit is that the drugs would be a relief to this feeling of hopelessness and disappointment.

  4. As boomer, I have a lot of sympathy for 20 somethings. You definitely are getting a raw deal.
    Unfortunately, your posting is full of misinformation.
    It is tough to get into a trade now. Tougher than 30 years ago when I apprenticed as an electrician.
    It is still a four year apprenticeship. Credit can be given for prior trades training.
    Unions no longer participate in more than about 20% of construction nowadays. So I don’t see how they are responsible for the problem.
    In fact, I was fortunate enough to be indentured to a Joint Board. That is a collaboration of employers and the trade union who work together to ensure that apprentices are properly trained, employed and employable.
    Have a look at employment sites now. Try to find employers who are willing to take on apprentices. Good luck.
    At my place of work, which employs both electricians and millwrights, it’s been 20 years since an apprentice was hired.
    Check out CBC’s Doc Zone from a couple of weeks ago. They highlight Switzerland, where youth unemployment is about 2-3%. They have over 200 apprenticeship streams which actively recruit young students.
    Here we have the Federal and Provincial governments pointing fingers at each other. A Provincial media campaign. But no action.
    Next they tell us that there is a dire shortage of trades people, and that we’ll have to fast track them from other countries.
    It’s tragic.

  5. I have hard time swallowing some of his logic.

    Lax building standards and poor quality workmanship are not the exclusive preserve of the mature tradesman……but rather the by product of developer lobbying and developer funding of elected governments at both the municipal and provincial levels, which begets the loose building codes and poor enforcement of same that we all have to deal with, either as renters or homedebtors.

    There are plenty of younger and older trades who do equally good high quality work, motivated solely by pride, as there are equally useless amounts of workers who don’t deserve the jobs they are in and do the bare minimum just to get by without beign noticed.

    Unions are a big problem for many reasons, I don’t disagree there…….but RE developers lining the pockets of politicians, who write the poor codes and then set the standards for even weaker enforcement are an even bigger one.

    • I tend to think the fault lies with architects who keep trying to mimic flat roof desert style housing in a rainy climate.

  6. Lifetime Renter

    Construction unions are not to be blamed for shoddy work and the lack of skilled tradespeople. I am old enough to remember the struggles by construction workers in the 80’s to stop the de-unionization of residential construction. Despite tremendous resolve and courage on the part of those on the front lines, facing cops and injunctions, the war was lost – the Pennyfarthing project in False Creek being the arena where the final battle took place. Today only 21% of construction workers are unionized in a province where the average rate of unionization is over 30%. This has had a direct impact on apprenticeship programs as the success rate for apprenticeships is significantly higher in unionized workplaces than in non-union. Furthermore, the provincial government has cut funding to the Industry Training Authority and has cut funding to postsecondary institutions that provide classroom training for apprenticeships. They severely cut the number of apprenticeship councillors and closed regional offices. The government ended union involvement in overseeing apprenticeship programs for a model that leaves it in the hands of industry. There is also a declining number of businesses signing up for taking on apprentices. Need I say that all of this part of the ongoing assault on the wages and working conditions of all workers, young and old, to the advantage of those at the top of the feeding chain.

  7. Pop goes the bubble

    Suck it up and quit being a whiner. You have an arts degree? No wonder you have been working for twenty years in low paying jobs. You were stupid enough to get a useless degree in the first place, who cares if you worked hard at it. Did you do any research on the job prospects or the salary expectations before you enrolled? I have two friends who lost their high paying jobs in the forest industry and have since gone back to school in the trades, they are both 40 years old with a wife and kids. They took a one year pre apprenticeship program and then got hired at a company for a four year apprenticeship program. They go to school only 6 weeks a year for four years, the rest of the time they are working, getting paid and developing their skills, they do most of their learning on the job. They are 40 years old and still have 25 plus years of working life ahead of them, they are far from being too old start over. Does it suck, sure, but you have to do what you have to do. 35 years ago my dad went back to school to become a pipefitter, he was 38 at the time, he said it was the best thing he ever did. Comparing getting a trade to getting a Phd is delusional, to be become a doctor you have to go to school continuously for 7 or more years, and for most of it you don’t get paid. Becoming a doctor is a far harder grind than getting a trade. For the record I am not a boomer, I a 40 year Gen X’r and have spent my entire career in the shadow of the boomers. I understand the challenges of being in their shadow, but to give up hope at 30 years old is pathetic. Whining that you will have to wait for them to die in order to get a decent job? . With that kind of attitude you will be lucky to get a job, I wouldn’t hire you, I wish you luck, you are going to need it.

    • maybe if you’d gotten an arts degree i’d be able to comprehend the tripe you just wrote

    • @Pop goes the bubble:

      I wouldn’t hire you because I think you have several personality defects. I think you have an inability to demonstrate empathy for those unlike yourself. I think you do not understand one of the most important socioeconomic trends of our time–chronic under-/un-employment especially of youth. I also think you do not understand how university degrees give people the ability to engage in higher level thinking and decision-making than any vocational training can do. I think you take delight in someone else’s misfortune as you seem to be wanting to rub my nose in it. Overall, I think you are nasty person with below average intelligence (ability to empathize is a big component of intelligence) and so I wouldn’t hire you either. Joy, we’ll never work together!

    • [QUOTE]
      Suck it up and quit being a whiner. You have an arts degree? No wonder you have been working for twenty years in low paying jobs. You were stupid enough to get a useless degree in the first place, who cares if you worked hard at it. Did you do any research on the job prospects or the salary expectations before you enrolled?

      I recently realized that most of the loathing on the internet is self-loathing.

    • @pop – the irony is that you probably aspire to things designed by or created by someone from a creative/arts background.

  8. Pop goes the bubble

    lol…maybe, but then I would have a shitty job like you.

    • There’s that nasty personality on display again. I believe your comment was in response to matt. Matt never said anything about his job so how would you know if he has a “shitty job”? Reading comprehension is something you learn in university.

  9. OP is clueless.

    Out of the “7 years” that it takes to become a licensed plumber, he will still probably spend >5 of them earning more than he did at whatever job he is leaving.

    The schooling required comes in small increments — measures in months or even weeks — which are bookended by gainful full-time employment well above the poverty line. Unlike a Ph.D, two apprentice plumbers together would earn more than the median family income in BC almost the entire time they were learning.

    As for “blame the unions for shoddy construction”, the theory is pretty far-fetched. I harbour concerns about *any* concentration of power, but asking that all skilled trades spend time learning from a senior practitioner before they hang out their own shingle is a long way from a “conspiracy.”

    I know many non-union plumbers, machinists, and electricians (in the lower mainland) who are earning 6 figures 10-15 years into their careers. I bet that there are plenty of Ph.D’s who aren’t. I wonder if the unions are also keeping the Ph.D’s down?

    A tradesman needs to be part craftsman, part artist, part designer, part engineer, part quality assurance manager, part businessman, part salesman, part logistics manager, and part labourer. You don’t can’t learn to do all of that well via 6 weeks of night school.

    In my experience, those who are inclined to the trades are sometimes also more inclined towards learning-by-doing and learning-by-watching-someone-do, rather than sitting in a classroom and acquiring knowledge from textbooks. If you taught plumbing via 2 years of classroom courses with zero real-world experience, the Lower Mainland would develop a whole new leaky condo problem!
    Ironically, classroom-only is how they teach many other professions — including management. 2 years in a classroom yields “Masters” of business who are sometimes so clueless about how real business works that you are surprised they don’t drown when drinking their morning coffee.

  10. Real Estate Tsunami

    What special training do you need to staple together the cardboard boxes they call houses nowadays?
    Any temporary Mexican worker can do it. And for a fraction of the cost.

  11. Having worked in the trades since the sixties I’ve seen most of it.
    Theres good and bad trades, good and bad builders.
    Never changes.
    A good tradesman will very rarely be unemployed, a snot nosed whinner with an attitude is never trained by a good tradesman, why waste your time on them.
    Get the coffee and clean up. Bye.
    There are lots of young 30 ish fellows here in Victoria who are very very good at what they do.
    Plumbers, electricians, framers, roofers etc
    As far as wages low 6 figures is certainly realistic, put the time in.
    Even more if you are a savy business owner.

  12. I’m a lawyer but my Dad was an electrician. Lawyers spend about 7 years in university, 1 year articling (apprentice lawyering) then bada-boom! we know everything about law. Or not…

    Learning any skill, profession or trade takes time. As a previous poster mentioned, apprentice trades are paid relatively well while they go through their programme. The OP’s comments tell me he doesn’t value his own trade or the skills it takes to do a job well.

  13. “That’s the equivalent of a PhD equivalent level education in terms of time spent.” Clearly the author has never met someone with a PhD. That’s barely the amount of time it takes to get a MSc. Plus as Burnabonian points out, the whole time they’re making a hell of a lot more than a poverty-level research stipend.


    This university prof says the young just don’t know what a bad deal we’re getting. This experiment of pensions, retirement, medical etc is going to explode

  15. I’m seeing an interesting trend in the oil and gas sector in the past year. Senior guys in purchasing roles are getting demoted or sent packing as younger folks with actual business training are hired as replacements. The day of learning the role through years with the company are done as the “on the job experience” is not worth the salaries these 20+ year veterans receive. I’ve seen two purchasing mangers laid off and re-hired at the competition ans buyers under new “strategic purchasing directors” 10 years junior. Eventually the higher paid under qualified boomer gets called out (for the record, many boomers are extremely qualified and need held on to for knowledge transfer it is just that there is a lot of fat to go with the meat).

    • UBCghettodweller

      Maybe it’s a science thing, but we call those people “deadwood.” They might play some sort of structural role, but they produce nothing new. On the flip side, keeping experienced useful people around is key to good company integrity. The best educator is experience and the many successes and failures that the experience encompasses. I’ve often found 20 minutes of talking to a very senior person about the project difficulties I’m having will save me days or weeks of essentially pointless work that I might have done otherwise.

      Legacy or institutional knowledge really should be valued more than it is (in any field of work or study!) but confusing seniority with ability is poisonous.

      • Real Estate Tsunami

        Very well put, UBC.

      • Carioca Canuck

        “Confusing seniority with ability is poisonous”……….so true ‘dat……….especially when it applies to the public servants in thia country.

      • Too right, BordelloDweller [CapableInstitutionalMemory/Culture]… and more than a few others here as well, for that matter. You know who you are, Brothers&Sisters.

        As a ScientisteSociale who’d enjoyed an astonishing array of DayJobs in assorted hemispheres betwixt studies and MajorCareerEpisodes (from uniformed to SelfEmployed to PinStriped/’MenInBlack’)… there is much that I was tempted to add to this thread… albeit, in the end, at the risk of BlowingMyCover… discretion usurped ‘valour’.

        I will say this, though…

        In the late ’80s… an EnduringChildHood friend on the cusp of his electricians’ JourneyMan was cut down in his prime on a NonUnion site where SafeWorkingPractices terminally yielded to Contractor’sProfits.

        It was a StandingRoomOnly funeral… The Wake was, impossibly, even more emotive/crowded.

        He shall live forever in our hearts… how we miss him still…

        [NoteToEd: I am so going to overindulge tonight. NoteToJR: He had the fastest Celica in the LM – TheGreenMonster… and his brother [a PipeFitter] the CoolestTransAm.]

      • InMemoriam… RK

        [NoteToEd: A gifted ‘Sparkie’… an even better Bassist. A favourite of his GarageBand…]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s