ITA funding raises governance questions

 

Since its inception in 2003, the Industry Training Authority (ITA) has been a source of great concern for many.  Advanced by BC’s employer lobbyists as a so-called “new model” for trades training and apprenticeships in BC, the ITA began by reversing many of the practices put in place by its predecessor, the Industry Training and Apprenticeship Commission (ITAC).  For example, rather than have oversight of the ITA guided by a stakeholder Board that included equal representation from labour and management, the ITA Board was dominated by employer representatives; only one ITA Board member was appointed from the ranks of the labour movement.  The new authority also fired the 125 counselors who helped register and guide apprentices towards completion, opting instead for an online, self-registering system.

The results of the so-called new model greatly underperformed what employer lobby groups had hyped as easily achievable goals for the ITA.  In its first four years of operation, the annual number of apprentices completing their certificate qualification (CoQ) failed to reach the totals recorded under the ITAC system, this despite the fact that ITA operated with a higher annual budget than was the case under the ITAC.

The less-than adequate results promoted a review by the Auditor General’s Office in 2006.  The review pointed to the poor completion rates along with a number of administrative problems as reason for change at the ITA.  Some of those changes were made, but many of the underlying problems remained.

Through all of this, the ITA’s relationship to BC’s post-secondary institutions was difficult.  Despite the fact that these institutions deliver over 90% of the trades training programs in the province, the ITA rarely consulted with those institutions on either program support or design.   In fact, the ITA’s interaction with the public institutions was more often in the form of directives.  Institutions were informed about changes to the number of weeks that the ITA would fund for various programs, a number that was always under downward pressure.

For faculty who teach in these programs, the frustration was obvious.  For example, how can an instructor take 50 weeks of material and condense it down to 45 or 40 as was often the case under ITA directives?  

The issue came to a head recently at Vancouver Community College (VCC) where the ITA had informed the college that the Heavy Mechanical Trades program was going to receive only 30 weeks of funding, down from the 36 that had been in place previously.

The change raised a fundamental question about the standards that need to be in place when programs are delivered, standards that are subject to review by the institution’s Education Council.  We reviewed both the case law and the relevant pieces of legislation to make sure that our concerns about this issue of governance and standard setting had merit.  They did.  And that’s why we have asked the CEO of ITA, Kevin Evans, to pause and consider what the legislation and the courts have to say about this issue. (Read my letter to Kevin Evans here.) His response is expected soon.  I hope for all our sakes—both his organization’s and our members’—he decides to reconsider his actions and, instead, work with our members to find sensible solutions to the problems this government has created.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.