Saskatchewan: Where Brain Drain Washes Out The Red Road

Journeyman Carpenter Certification Illusive to Indigenous Journeyman Carpenters in Saskatchewan

 According to the recent experience of Richard Dickenson, you can apprentice for carpentry in Saskatchewan to the level of a fourth year journeyman, at which point the bureaucracy (in Saskatchewan, Bumbledom) of apprenticeship opens the flat earth and swallows aspiring Indigenous applicants (fourth-year fully apprenticed journeyman carpenters) before they obtain Red Seal Certification. 


Overstuffed bureaucrats in Saskatchewan deploy particularly low-brow methodologies to obstruct and ostracize Indigenous students out of writing coveted Red Seal Certification exams. This means Indigenous folks in Saskatchewan never 'qualify' to mentor Indigenous people (or anybody else) into the carpentry trade.

It is no mean feat of applied learning and experience to make it to the journeyman level in any trade, as everybody knows. People who get there often overcome more than a few impediments, such as A.D.D., A.D.H.D., Dyslexia, G.A.D., or the simple fact that some candidates struggle with reading and comprehension.

"Nearly all my non-Indigenous students fall under one or more of those categories. Unfortunately, due to obvious deficiencies in  Canadian education, the same is certainly true for Indigenous students," says Richard Dickenson, owner, Integrated Carpentry Tutorials (Website).

"More and more in the residential and commercial or industrial construction work place," he says, "working carpenters need Red Seal Certification to get and keep a job. Not only is it more money per hour but nowadays no ticket equals no job."

When you have a journeyman's ticket, the next step is Red Seal Certification, and this is when Dickenson arrives to take  carpenters to the ultimate level. In his experience this is something that happens everywhere but Saskatchewan and possibly in Saskatchewan if you are non-Indigenous.

"I found a troubling situation with Saskatchewan Apprenticeship Trades Certification Commission (SATCC) in the spring of 2017. I was contracted by a Saskatchewan-based First Nations college to help twelve journeyman carpenters prepare to challenge the inter-provincial Red Seal Certification exam."

Dickenson explains the problematic situation encountered in Saskatchewan. "Without exception, students told a harrowing tale of systematic obstruction in their dealings with SATCC during the process of qualifying to challenge the exam to obtain Red Seal Certification."

Dickenson details encounters, "with a rigid and static public bureaucracy determined to operate in secrecy and employing intimidation tactics to preserve the status quo. I discovered a number of discrepancies in how the nationally sanctioned Red Seal (CCDA) program is administered provincially by SATCC. Simple questions and information requests about how Saskatchewan administers Red Seal Certification were met with howls of protest, backroom maneuvers, and threats of funding cuts or limited access for the First Nation college in Saskatoon."

This was the beginning. "Both myself and the administration coordinator at the First Nation college believed we made a simple pro forma request for extra time to write the exam, as is done everywhere else in Canada, but, as fate would have it, this turned into a full scale battle. The First Nation college coordinator used the Industry Training Authority of British Columbia's (ITA) Exam Accommodation Request from the ITA's website."

Dickenson says this led to outrageous phone calls by SATCC officials to counterparts at ITA-BC, Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) in Toronto, and CCDA in Ottawa. "To our complete and utter amazement, a request for extra time to write the exam was summarily denied with zero explanation about why."

Dickenson remains at a loss to explain what happened next, "It took weeks to learn about the denial of extra time, then we discover that to qualify for Exam Accommodation (extra time to write it)," all Indigenous students in Saskatchewan would be required to do the following:

1) Write a four hour preliminary exam  – taking time off work – to determine 'suitability' for taking the exam;

2) Wait one year (!) to schedule appointments to undergo a four-hour interview with a provincial psychologist – taking time off work;

3) Wait a further one or two years to schedule an exam, should an Exam Accommodation (even) be granted(!);

4) Undergo psychological assessments costing $1,300.00 per person, conducted by a single psychologist under provincial contract riding a virtual gravy train of bumbledom obstructionism;

5) Forced travel to psychological assessments that are conducted exclusively in Saskatoon – taking time off work as employed journeyman carpenters.

Is this set of boondoggles difficult enough? "ln the event a candidate survives this exploitative process, a further one-year wait is required before an exam will be scheduled. Then successful candidates qualify for a mere 30 extra minutes!"

Dickenson is well-versed in national CCDA protocols for carpenters across Canada. "Extra time is calculated at a ratio of 1.5 times four hours (current exam length) which equals an exam time of six hours; two hours of which are 'extra.' Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, however, SATCC calculates extra time at 1.5 times three hours (three hours being the length of the former exam which was discontinued in 2007, resulting in 4.5 hours total, 0.5 hours, or, 30 minutes of which is 'extra.'"

In Saskatchewan's Byzantine Bumbledom, "Re-writes of CCDA inter-provincial Red Seal Certification exams are not held every year for unsuccessful candidates. Indeed, they are held every other year, once during the year, only in Saskatoon." Dickenson compares this to B.C., Yukon, Alberta and Ontario, "Re-writes can be scheduled within 30 days, and can be written in the city or town lived in, year in and year out."

Here it goes completely off the rails from national and international standards, because Saskatchewan, drained of brains, for all it's lack of scenery, personalities, and character, is unique. "SATCC's Field Manager Kevin Graham told me Saskatchewan has a four-time limit on exam re-writes." Dickenson found this astonishing, "Once a candidate has reached this four-time limit they are enjoined (prohibited) from writing the exam again -- for life! 

"What happens then?" he asked Mr. Graham.

Graham replied, "They have to find another trade."

Dickenson says, "Mister Graham generously went about expanding on this SATCC policy. 'You have to accept the fact that 40 percent of carpenters will just never pass their Red Seal.' What are the percentages for First Nations? I asked." Dickenson says Mr. Graham just rolled his eyes and shook his head.

"I have witness to the exchange, this is a verbatim account. I must point out an arbitrary four-time limit does not exist elsewhere in Canada." Dickenson's experience is indicative of deeply entrenched systemic racism in Saskatchewan grinding through the lives of anybody Indigenous aspiring to higher pay and better careers, or wanting to mentor trades people in their communities.

"They make it impossible for Indigenous people to get a fair shake. When you speak about the exam, or ask questions, they threaten to cut established funding to Indigenous Educational Trades Programs. It is outrageous." Adding a grim summary, "Anybody who thinks there are no mountains in Saskatchewan," says Dickenson, "never had to deal with the Saskatchewan Apprenticeship Commission." 
Integrated Carpentry Tutorials website