An industry committee led by Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table wants to create a national standardized demonstration of skills test (DOST) for mobile crane operators.
“Crane operators are very mobile,” said Lionel Railton, chairman of the DOST Project Committee. “They need to be able to move easily and smoothly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in Canada. A national demonstration of skills test would facilitate that.” Railton said there are about 15,000 mobile crane operators in Canada, but no consistent application of a DOST across the country.
In western Canada, for example, B.C. and Manitoba have a skills test for crane operators, but Alberta and Saskatchewan do not. Railton’s committee is working with the Canadian Hoisting and Rigging Safety Council to develop and pilot a voluntary test for mobile lattice boom friction and hydraulic crane operators. The standard is being created to complement the existing Red Seal certification.
“We want to come up with a test that is based on existing national and international best practices,” said Railton. “Ideally, for jurisdictions currently using demonstration of skills test, it would be adopted and used going forward. For jurisdictions not currently using such a test, our standard could be used in the introduction of their activities.” Approaches to DOSTs vary across the provinces and territories, and Railton said this lack of a national standard has been harmful to the construction industry.
In addition to restricting labour mobility, it has saddled employers with the administrative burden of continually demonstrating new workers’ competencies. Railton said industry stakeholder groups have expressed support for the harmonization of competence standards and a national DOST. “Liability and safety are important issues for the crane industry, because of the potential for catastrophic and expensive accidents involving cranes,” he said. “As a result, the skills table is optimistic about reaching an agreement.
“If it is successful, this initiative has implications not just for mobile crane operators, but for other trades, too.” At the moment, there are two Canadian national DOSTs – one for welders and another for hairstylists. Railton said he expects the Canadian Council of Directors of Apprentices would be responsible for a national DOST for mobile crane operators.In British Columbia, the test would be administered by the B.C. Association for Crane Safety (BCACS). Railton said a standardized DOST is needed now.
Shortages of mobile crane operators have been documented in recent research and in direct union and employer feedback from across Canada. Data from BuildForce Canada, a construction industry labour market information organization, indicates a supply shortage of mobile crane operators in many provinces. Citizenship and Immigration Canada has included crane operators as one of the 29 occupations that are given priority in the immigration application process because they are in short supply.
Ken Morland, chairman of the BCACS, said his association supports the initiative. “We are very much in favour of harmonization of skills training across the country,” he said. “Our executive director, Fraser Cocks, has been working with the project committee on it.” Krista Bax, executive director of the Asia Pacific Gateway Skills Table (APGST), said the shortage of crane operators will be worsened by the loss of older workers and the large number of new infrastructure projects. “Mobility in this industry has also changed significantly in the past 10 years,” she said.
“Many work environments in the western provinces and northern territories are camp environments, with fly in-fly out workforce models.” She said that although crane operators make up only a small portion of the workforce on each job, the entire work site slows down when a crane does not operate, resulting in reduced productivity and increased costs for the employer.
The APGST is a regional partnership between labour, business and education and training institutions. It was created in 2008 to ensure the Asia Pacific Gateway has enough people with the right skills and training to meet its needs. The Asia–Pacific Gateway and Corridor is a system of transportation infrastructure that stretches from British Columbia to Manitoba. In B.C. it includes ports in the Lower Mainland and Prince Rupert, road and rail connections that reach into the economic centres of North America, as well as major airports and border crossings.
Author; Peter Caulfield