Richard Dickenson runs Integrated Carpentry Tutorials (ICT), a company designed to deliver “Carpentry Refresher” lessions to teach 10 to 15 students at a time. They take three sets of two-day sessions about how to challenge the Industry Training Authority of B.C.'s (ITA) Inter-Provincial exam. This is permitting journeymen carpenters to obtain valuable Red Seal Certification. Canadian Red Seal Carpenters receive top union pay rates and benefits across Canada, U.S.A., U.K., other European countries, Australia, and Japan.
Dickenson began teaching carpentry at a community college in Campbell River, B.C., in 2010 and has spent more than six years preparing qualified carpenters to successfully challenge the ITA exam.
"Anybody with the required number of hours (provable by employers and verified by the ITA in B.C., -- 9,720 hours) will be permitted to write the exam." he says. Successful students graduate to receive an immediate 10-15% bump in the size of their pay envelope plus benefits. In fact, in the modern workforce it is more often than not the deciding factor on whether they get the job.
Once they have Red Seal certification, they can expand career aspirations to include making the jump to Foreman, General Foreman, Superintendent, Project Manager, and Business Owner. They can apprentice other carpenters under their tutelage. But first they have to get through a university-level exam, and Dickenson delivers a course that is remarkably successful in helping them do it.
“The problem with Red Seal exam is that it is not focused on determining your skill level and knowledge as a carpenter, rather, the questions are needlessly complicated and designed for the candidates to fail. Dense, complex sentence structure to mask a very simple question is the culprit."
The ITA exam is not written by tradesmen, instead it is written by academics, and that’s the problem. What Dickenson has learned over the past half decade is that his students may well be awesome carpenters but they come up short in the ability to write these academic-oriented university-level exams.
"I provide students with the research skills and ability to find information in the National Building Code as required by the exam. I brush up their math and specific carpentry skills. I teach them how to find the keywords in the question to help them find the best answer on the exam. During the course, they gain the confidence to tackle a complicated bunch of words. And, I do it right across Canada.”
The reason for his success preparing candidates to challenge exams is two-fold. First, before the course starts, students receive preparation materials and detailed instructions six weeks in advance so they can brush up their skills on their own time and prepare for the course, before it starts.
“This lead time helps reduce the pressure for guys that often haven’t been in a classroom for decades. I have designed the course to ease the burden of study. They can get a bunch of the prep work done before classroom time, so that allows them to focus on exactly what they need to know to pass the exam."
The second major ingredient for success is to have the ITA Application process done BEFORE the classroom time starts to qualify to write the exam .
“The best possible outcome is for students to take the course and then write the exam as soon as possible after finishing. That way the students are fresh and positive and their confidence level is up. I have had over 90% success rate using these two simple steps.”
The course zeroes in on helping students develop a Personal Strategy to pass the exam. Students learn Research skills and develop Time Management skills to reduce the stress of writing the exam. “It’s simple,” says Dickenson, “ if I can increase their confidence by helping them gain new skills, then I can reduce their stress. When I reduce their stress, I increase their ability to pass the exam. Taking the mystery out of the code and the exam is what the course is all about.”
Often these locations have a backlog of people wanting to challenge the ITA exam.
"Recently we had 30 people apply and 13 people take the course in the Yukon and a 93% success rate. They thrived on the comprehensive review of carpentry principles. Two First Nations guys in the Yukon, for example, are now Red Seal carpenters.
“They can now apprentice carpenters in the Territory,” says Dickenson. Giving First Nations carpenters the ability to mentor potential apprentices will change the whole nature of career opportunities for First Nations youth, meeting Dickenson's goal of bringing real change to communities left out of the mainstream economy.
"It's not a cake walk and it's a lot of work. I believe each First Nation community needs the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and abuse. This will bring the long-awaited inter-generational change so essential to people who need to adapt. First Nations at one time long ago knew very well how to adapt; they shared their knowledge and passed their skills down from generation to generation. I want to see the ability to adapt to change returned to these communities."
Another stumbling block to success is the bureaucracy that weighs too heavy in the lives of First Nations people. "We can work together by teaching highly motivated members from separate communities in a single classroom. Soon we will have educated and qualified mentors in multiple communities who can teach and mentor their newcomers in their own communities. It would be self-generating and self-sustaining and the social benefits are incalculable.”
Dickenson is presently lobbying the ITA to change the exam to be more accommodating to First Nation oral traditions of sharing information. "Make it harder, sure enough, but change the language so that First Nations can access the building trades. If we can offer the B.C. Driver’s License exam in Mandarin Chinese or Punjabi for recent immigrants, then we can most certainly offer the ITA exam in language that is more accommodating to First Nations people who, let’s face it, have been totally let down by the Canadian education system."
Finally, he wants to expand his own curriculum. "Can we teach a course for First Nations on how to submit a bid on Band Projects? Yes! This would open up new business opportunities for skilled First Nation carpenters in Canada. Can we prepare students to challenge for other career opportunities in construction?
"The Residential Building Maintenance Worker (RBMW) course is perfect for carpenters on the Indian Reserves. It takes 6,000 hours of practical work to challenge the exam, but there are people with a myriad of skills in basic plumbing, electrical, heating, and carpentry (framing, roofing, etc.) who could obtain Red Seal certification if they were prepared for the exam. Then, local Band Councils could hire their own people to maintain Band properties. Imagine the trickle down benefits of this idea!!”
Dickenson has a unique set of skills for teaching people who live in communities with undeveloped economies. He has taught carpentry skills in several countries in the Caribbean. "Isolation doesn't scare or deter me from helping people advance in life. And it gives me a unique opportunity to travel all over this fantastic country and make new friends wherever I go.”
Call Richard Dickenson for more information on preparing qualified carpenters for the ultimate step
Does the Saskatchewan apprenticeship program create needless barriers to Indigenous journeymen carpenters writing exams for Red Seal Certification?
ICT has developed a six module course specifically designed to give working carpenters with enough hours in the trade, the info and skills they need to pass the IP Red Seal Exam.