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Selinger vows to train more to work in construction trades

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THE NDP plans to train an additional 1,000 people per year in the construction trades over the next several years as Red River College embarks on a major expansion.

Premier Greg Selinger promised Thursday that a re-elected NDP government would invest $60 million on the first phase of a new skilled trades and technology centre at the college's Notre Dame Avenue campus.

Red River's current construction trades facility is aging and filled to capacity, so it can't handle an increase in students. That concerns the construction industry, which is anticipating a great need for new workers as the baby boom generation retires.

Stephanie Forsyth, the college's president, said an internal study of the campus's Building B, which currently houses most of its construction-trades training, revealed that it was not worthwhile to upgrade or expand the facility. "To renovate was really throwing good money after bad," she said Thursday.

Forsyth said Red River is planning a 320,000-square-foot, $176-million construction-trades training centre to be built over three years. The centre would house training for all construction trades, including plumbing, sheet metal, electrical, roofing, bricklaying, carpentry and so on.

"It's going to be a phenomenal space," she said, noting that the NDP's promise would "get us a long way into the first phase" of the ambitious project.

Red River currently trains about 4,000 full-time students and apprentices in its construction trades programs. The new facility, when opened, would boost capacity by 25 per cent.

A local commercial builder said the industry can use the extra people. "There's definitely a need. Right now there's a shortage of tradespeople," said Randy Clegg, president of Parkwest Projects Ltd.

Ron Hambley, executive vice-president of the Winnipeg Construction Association, said the demand for new electricians and carpenters is being met, but there is a shortage of trained people in virtually every other trade.

Hambley said Red River would like to supply the trained workers, but lacks a proper facility. "Space has always been the issue. It's not their desire to hold classes," he said of the college.

Selinger also announced incentives Thursday for construction companies to take on more apprentices. He termed the $60-million commitment "unprecedented."

Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen announced his own plans to boost skilled trades and apprenticeship training last week. It involved training credits for employers and a rule change that would allow a journeyman to supervise up to two apprentices instead of just one.

"This is really the NDP playing catch-up on that issue of training and apprenticeship," McFadyen said of the NDP announcement Thursday. Asked if he would fund a new skilled trades centre at Red River if his party were to form the government following the Oct. 4 election, he said the Conservatives would "need to do more analysis and due diligence" before making a specific commitment.

Meanwhile, the provincial Liberals said Thursday that the NDP had broken a 2007 campaign promise on vocational training and education. The party issued a statement saying that as of 2010, wait times for welding courses were six years. "The NDP have little credibility. This is a recycled announcement of a broken promise," said Liberal spokesman Paul Hesse.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 9, 2011 A6

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