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Industrial artists concerned about skills shortage

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Saltspring group looks to create, fund an apprenticeship program for island and Whistler

Ornately carved doors and pillars, custom ironwork and cabinetry, cut glass mosaics, original brass and copper fixtures – just a few of the skills that are in demand in B.C. these days, but are in danger of being lost.

A concerned group of industrial artists who say they have been abandoned by the government and let down by the school system are taking it upon themselves to ensure that their skills are passed on to the next generation.

They have created a society and are now working to put together a program to educate young people about opportunities in industrial arts, and that will one day help to fund an apprenticeship program on Saltspring Island and in Whistler in co-operation with local artisans, contractors and developers.

"We really will not have a future as a business if we don’t train our own skillset. The companies must take this responsibility upon ourselves," said Chester Ludlow, a cabinet and door maker, and the director of marketing for Klassen Artisans of Saltspring Island.

Ludlow and his associates at Klassen are spearheading the initiative, which is still in its early stages.

In the last week Ludlow has approached cable companies in Whistler and on Saltspring about a series of shows profiling local artisans. They also sent out a survey to schools and residents of Saltspring to find out if individuals and companies would support the program, and if students would be interesting in enrolling. As well, they have sounded out a number of Whistler businesses that employ artisans that provide original and custom work for homebuilding and retail.

Plans are in the works to build a 24,000 square foot centre on Saltspring for an apprenticeship program, and artisans would be able to lease space inside to teach their skills. Another centre could be built in the Whistler, says Ludlow.

"This is a huge opportunity we have to make sure that the quality of skillsets (we have) is passed on to young people, because they can continue on with them. The children who grew up in our communities will be able to afford to buy property on the islands and the mountains they were born in," he said.

Ludlow and the other artisans that are behind this project are frustrated by the way industrial arts are taught and promoted in the province. Ludlow blames an overhaul in the education system back in 1987 that promoted computer training. Although this was supposed to be an additional program, says Ludlow, it came at the expense of industrial arts classes. Now the statistics show an overall decline in the number of students taking industrial arts – 35 to 50 per cent in high school and colleges.

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