By / Drew Smith • photos courtesy of BCWCA

It’s a great time to be an apprentice with the quantity and diversity of projects ongoing and on the books for the near future in the wall and ceiling installers’ field of study and training.

I have been asked to write an article about how and why I run our classroom/shop as I would a job site and why I feel this is an important part of our apprentices’ training while I have them for a short time at our training centre at BCWCA. I will also cover what I expect from our apprentices when attending.

I will start by reminiscing about my own training as a young apprentice days in prison. Seriously! Many of you may remember the Pacific Vocational Institute 1978-1986, our Carpenter-Lather Training Centre, formerly Haney Correctional Institute. We apprentices of that era literally went to jail to learn the theory and hands-on training of our craft and we went willingly. Al Vince was the warden of the day.

We have come a long way with training and improved facilities to mold our apprentices in the new millennium. Gone are the days when the instructor had to head down to the Haney Hotel to collect us from the pub during our extended lunch breaks. Bring back memories?
We are in a new world of youth, eager to learn the theory and basics of our craft and I take great pride being chosen to administer the set out curriculum to the tradespeople of the future.

The curriculum in our classroom training is set out using the National Occupational Analysis (NOA). This directs the instructor to address the requirements set forth by the Industry Training Authority (ITA) and to provide classroom instruction and hands-on shop work, working toward the end result that our apprentices receive their Red Seal Certification as a Wall and Ceiling Installer.

With proper training at the BCWCA and Finishing Trades Institute of BC (FTI), in partnership with the apprentices’ sponsor companies, we should be able to produce a new generation of fully qualified tradespeople, resulting in a more efficient and progressive work force for our industry’s future.

Many of my fellow classmates from my apprenticeship days have achieved great success in our trade and related aspects of the wall and ceiling industry. Well done, gentlemen.

A fond memory I have of my dad/mentor, Andy Smith, also a wall and ceiling contractor back in the day, was that of walking the corridors of Robson Square under construction in 1979. While wanting to check a P.S.F. for plumb, he asked a worker for a 4’ spirit level. The worker did not have one nor did several others he asked. Not being able to do this and turning a new shade of Mad Red, we returned to the truck, proceeded to the nearest drywall supplier, and purchased every 4’ spirit level they had in stock. Returning to the site with myself, a good quantity of levels, and my cart, we proceeded to walk the corridors again, passing out the levels to each worker. All the workers shook my dad’s hand and thanked him for the tool, as it was Christmas time and payday Friday. Along with the paycheque, there was a gift certificate for a turkey and a note from dad that said something like: “You now all have a 4’ level. The cost for the level has been deducted from your pay. You must have the proper tools to do your job.” Well done, Dad.

On the first day of school at the BCWCA, in advance of our shop classes, I present a list of tools I expect our apprentices to have in their tool kits. I discuss the list with our apprentices and ask that they review the list with their respective employers and return the following week with the input. I have yet to receive a negative response from any contractor. Quite the opposite, I am thanked for driving this message home to the apprentices. The proper tools are needed to do the tasks of the day. In many cases, the employer is able to work with the apprentice along with generous support from our drywall supply companies to get the best deals on filling these tool requirements. A win-win for all concerned parties.
Ok, so now I have an apprentice to learn and work productively. What now? I explain to them that when they come to my job site (school) they will learn quickly if they show up five minutes before class they are already 10 minutes late. I need know who I have to work with today to assign tasks I need done. Start time is when we start work. I explain if I do not have their full attention, if they are not fit and dressed for work, the industry will not need them on site—definitely not on my job. Think about this for a minute. Your local fast food restaurant requires nothing less. Should be simple.

There will be no cellphones on my job. I demand your full attention, as you are working for me today. This is not a new thought. Keep going back to the fast food analogy.

On my job site, you are required to wear your P.P.E. at all times. You will be warned once and told to leave the job site and study quietly in the classroom the second time. Unfortunately, these apprentices are not always sitting alone. They learn. They learn quickly. This issue is resolved. Simple, right?

At your training facility, I do everything I can to simulate an actual job site scenario that I believe brings the apprentice to a higher understanding that there are rules in place on any site and they must be followed. We don’t always like to follow the rules but they are necessary to provide continuity and in most cases to provide safety to our workers.

We have two break times in our regular work days at my site (school), at which time we collectively stop working. There are no workers left working alone. Again, safety of the workers comes first. The apprentices quickly appreciate this and everyone is on board. We now have a well-oiled machine. I have laid out the rules of my site, they have learned them, abide by them, and we are all in a good place moving forward productively, efficiently, and most important, safely. A relatively simple process.

We have a classroom that can accommodate 16 students comfortably for book, theory, and curriculum review work. It is well lit, has lots of windows, and media presentation is available for training purposes. A lunch room adjacent to the classroom provides a seating area, fridge, microwave, coffee machine, toaster oven, and washing up area for dishes. There are two half-bathrooms here. One at front of the class and one in the shop.

The shop area is approximately 2000 square feet where we construct mock-up rooms providing practical training using our most common component materials.

I have the apprentices attend classroom time for theory work specifically on Thursday nights as they are tired from working on site all day. Safety first again, as I don’t need exhausted workers in the shop area.

The classroom work is a casual environment. No phones allowed. I actually have a phone jail box in the classroom. We review the curriculum, as discussed earlier set out by the NOA, and we distribute quizzes on different aspects of the trade for marking scores.

As a superintendent for a large general contractor, it is my intent that they receive the training I am looking for on my actual project sites. They should leave here with a real world experience.

In my opinion, the industry needs a kick start and I believe we need to start at the beginning with basic work ethics, good habits, first on the job-last to leave habits. Would you agree?

When you send me your apprentices, I will try and return them to you in one piece and with a new bounce their step, eager to learn and productively and efficiently produce for you in a safe manner. Ask any of my past students what my number one rule is at the end of each week’s session: Make the Boss Money.

Again, I thank you in advance for your continued support of your training facility at BCWCA, and look forward to having you send forward the journeypersons of tomorrow.

I will return them in one piece. ■

Trowel Magazine