Where are the Inuit tradesmen?

Kativik suggests new rules to help Nunavik’s construction workers earn journeyman papers


About 800 Inuit have worked in construction in Nunavik over the past 25 years, but none have qualified as journeymen, that is, certified tradesmen, in carpentry, electricity or plumbing.

A report tabled at a recent meeting of the Kativik Regional Government councillors in Kuujjuaq notes that it could take an Inuk worker in Nunavik up to 12 years to qualify as a carpenter and 16 years to qualify as an electrician because Inuit construction workers only work an average of 500 hours a year.

Many have racked up between 1,000 and 3,000 hours of experience, but fewer than 10 workers have accumulated the 6,000 hours needed to become a journeyman carpenter or the 8,000 hours needed to qualify as a journeyman electrician.

But even those who possess the necessary number of hours must pass a rigorous exam before they can be certified.

The KRG report outlines this sad state of affairs and suggests workers, contractors and communities work together to change the situation by adopting and supporting a new program called “Sanajiit.”

The KRG report doesn’t suggest trying to challenge the control that Quebec’s powerful Commission de la construction du Québec wields over the province’s construction industry.

The CCQ, a group with representatives from the Quebec government, contractors and unions, sets the standards for the industry and decides on the number of hours prospective journeymen have to work before they can take a qualifying exam.

“These are the facts the Inuit construction workers must live with and they cannot bypass them,” says the report, entitled: “Why, after more than 25 years of construction in Nunavik, is not one Inuk in carpentry, electricity or plumbing a qualified journeyman?”.

As long as the maximum number of hours worked remains at about 500 a year, the KRG report says a construction worker starts off every year at the same point as a novice worker “mainly because he had forgotten what he learned or acquired the year before.”

“This is obvious in any kind of work,” says the report. “We cannot become good hunters if we do not go hunting every year and every season.”

The report says Inuit have problems accumulating enough hours for CCQ qualifications because there may be no job opportunities in their communities every year, and many also work in two or three different trades during the same season.

As well, many prefer to work as labourers because they can earn more money than apprentices.

An apprentice in carpentry earns $16 an hour, while a labourer receives $20 an hour. Journeymen, however, can expect to be paid at least $26 an hour.

The report also says the presence of 800 construction workers in Nunavik means there are too many workers vying for a limited number of hours.

To fix the situation, the report says fewer Inuit need to work more hours every year.

It suggests creating a single pool of construction workers who would travel from community to community. There would be a special priority hiring list for each trade and special courses for workers who are close to qualifying for the exam.

On-the-job training would also be part of the new subsidized “Sanajiit” program, managed by the KRG’s employment and training department.

This program would be open to contractors if they agreed to register the worker as an apprentice and follow a KRG-approved apprenticeship booklet.

The program would be reserved mainly for construction trade students, those who already have a diploma of vocational studies or experienced workers.

To work well, the report says this program needs the full support of all communities, contractors and workers.

According to a questionnaire distributed this spring, workers would willingly travel to work, while companies would be ready to hire local workers “if they were reassured that Inuit workers will be welcome in other communities.”

The report says communities must accept that few local workers would be hired over the short-term, but these workers would eventually be in a position to take over jobs done by outside workers and encourage others in Nunavik to follow in their steps.

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