A $15-million facility for the new Manitoba Building Trades Institute has opened its doors in central Winnipeg.
But the grand unveiling for the recruitment, training, employment and advancement space — which was months in the making — did not come without a separate, last-minute trades-related announcement by the province, "stealing" some of its thunder.
Equipped with large computer labs, technology classrooms, an indoor aquaponic greenhouse, outdoor gardens, an apiary, auditorium and practical training areas, the facility aims to fortify a growing need for skilled trades workers across Manitoba. There’s also a special exhibit curated by the Manitoba Museum in the atrium, showcasing the historic 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.
A particular emphasis will be placed on the retention of people entering the sector and to diminish a persistent stigma against working in the trades. To that end, the institute will offer readiness training, diversity and inclusion programming; with many virtual and augmented reality workshops for high school students as well, so they can get a taste of what it’s like being in the industry.
"Every single thing here is done with that mission in mind," said Marc Laford, president of Manitoba Building Trades, at the launch on McPhillips Street for the organization that represents more than 8,000 construction and trades professionals.
"It’s the largest private investment in a school like this in Western Canada. And forgive me for maybe being biased, but skilled trades are where it’s at — highly paid jobs, with great benefits and the ability to achieve daily accomplishments."
The event was attended by representatives from the city, Canada’s Building Trade Unions, and leaders from the Manitoba Liberal and New Democratic parties.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler attended on behalf of the provincial government. He said he wishes he’d received a tour of the facility prior to the launch.
"This is my first official function post the latest wave (of COVID-19)," Schuler said. "But I would like to say how much we are in support of efforts to address the changing demographics in the workforce and the continued growth in the construction industry."
NDP leader Wab Kinew called the facility a "tremendous" accomplishment that’s been a long time coming. "Today’s a great day and every single one of you should be so very proud. You’re going to be able to do a ton of good work and reach into the community to help all the next generations," Kinew said.
"What an exciting time," said Vivian Santos, city councillor for Point Douglas. "I know how much the pandemic has delayed this much-needed facility, but to see it launch today and attend it with you all in person, is just amazing and so very thrilling."
Still, despite the glitz and glam of the building trades institute opening, three Manitoba government ministers with related portfolios attended another announcement elsewhere Wednesday morning.
The provincial government is investing more than $600,000 to partner with the Manitoba Construction Sector Council by delivering a "multi-faceted, skilled-trades training initiative for Indigenous women" in northern and remote communities. It’s a three-week course and one-day workshop that will result in a certificate for each, said the ministers for economic development and jobs, Indigenous relations, and heritage and culture.
That funding is being filtered through the same Manitoba Construction Sector Council that ousted Manitoba Building Trades in June, ostensibly over disagreements stemming from a government initiative regarding micro-credentials.
Wednesday’s investment from the province is "going to what is essentially a micro-credential," said Tanya Palson, manager of external affairs for Manitoba Building Trades.
"I’m honestly just floored and very concerned that they chose to announce this today at the same time that we’re having our launch," Palson said. "They could’ve collaborated with us, they could’ve consulted us and instead this happened — which will now deter and deflect attention from this project worth millions of dollars."
A provincial spokeswoman was defensive when reached for comment, calling MBT’s remarks a "ridiculous" suggestion. She said the government’s announcement was pre-planned and that ministers did not know about MBT’s event until Wednesday.
"While government is mindful to not schedule two announcements at times that compete with each other, third-party invitations to grand opening events (as opposed to media announcements) that are sent directly to ministers’ and premier’s offices are not always shared with the communications office," the spokeswoman wrote to the Free Press.
"It’s unfortunate efforts are being made to discredit the important government announcement this morning — and the work of industry leaders and partners — that will provide skills training for Indigenous women in northern and rural communities."
The province did not fund anything related directly to the construction or creation of the institute, Palson said.
All investments were private and came from equity partners: Manitoba Building Trades, Allied Hydro Council and LiUNA Local 1258.