Apprenticeship Basics

Apprenticeship is an agreement between an apprentice who wants to learn a trade, and an employer who needs a skilled worker. Apprenticeship is a proven industry-based learning system that combines on-the job experience with technical training to produce a certified journeyperson.

The “apprenticeship” system for training trades workers has its roots in history. For centuries skilled trades people had an obligation to teach their craft to the young. After an apprentice had satisfactorily completed the full term of training and had demonstrated his ability, he became a “journeyman”, meaning he could then travel from one job to another working for day wages.

Today, all apprentices are registered with the BC government to ensure that all rules governing apprenticeship apply. Apprenticeship counselors will assess your employer to determine if the proper on-the-job training can be provided. Apprentices must be working in the carpentry trade and become registered with us to access Carpenter-Apprentice training. The process of becoming enrolled as a formal apprentice is called ‘indentureship’.

Why It’s Important

While you don’t legally have to be government-certified to work as a carpenter, many employers in BC will only hire carpenters who hold formal qualifications. Many will insist on a Certificate of Qualification (formerly known as a TQ or a trade qualification) as a condition of employment.

If you work as a carpenter or in another trades but never had formal apprenticeship training or journeyperson certification, you may be eligible to write the examination, depending on your training and work experience. Generally, six years of full-time experience is required.

Getting your Tradesman Ticket

An apprenticeship in carpentry is four years long. Apprenticeships in other trades vary in length. You will work on construction sites with qualified journeyperson carpenters who will show you how to work safely, how to use carpenters tools, and how to build the assigned projects. You must come to work regularly, be on time, and be willing to work and learn. You will attend six weeks of full-time technical training each year. Additional part-time and full-time courses are available at no cost.

The Inter Provincial ‘Red Seal’ Program At the end of your apprenticeship you will receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship and your Certificate of Qualification. The BC government now uses the Interprovincial Standards Examination for certification purposes, which means you will automatically get the Interprovincial Red Seal. This allows you to work in your trade anywhere in Canada. It’s also recognized around the world.

Education and Training Requirements

Completion of a four-year apprenticeship is the common requirement for carpenters, wall and ceiling carpenters, lather / drywallers and cabinetmakers/joiners. Recommended level of education prior to beginning an apprenticeship is Grade 10 or equivalent, with English, mathematics and science, but Grade 12 is preferred by most employers. The apprenticeship involves four levels of technical training.

What’s a Carpenter?

It used to be safe to think that a carpenter was someone who built things out of wood. In today’s more complex building technology four main branches of the trade have emerged:

All construction trades require the ability to work at heights and scaffolders are the trade’s people that make it possible. Scaffolding used to made of wood but today’s modern equipment includes complex metal systems that require highly skilled, properly trained, scaffolders. Today’s scaffolders work in many industries, including industrial settings (pulp mills, gas plants, manufacturing facilities), commercial environments (e.g.: office towers, malls), on movie sets, condominiums, and shipyards. Carpenters build forms for foundations, install floor beams, lay sub-floors, erect walls and roofs, frame buildings, and finish interiors with doors, stairs, moldings and trim. Joiners (also called cabinetmakers) most often work in factories operating machinery to build furniture, cabinets and other complex assemblies which are transferred to the site for assembly in the building. Lathers, now commonly called wall and ceiling mechanics, erect complex wall, ceiling and special floor systems made out of metal and other products. All of these trades must know how to operate power tools, be able to read and interpret architect’s drawings and plans, lay out a project, and work with wood, metal, plastics and other materials. How soon can apprentices start working? The number of training opportunities for apprentices depends on construction activity. The more work, the more opportunities. When there is a wait list to start, it may vary from a few months to a year or longer. It’s best to contact us as soon as possible to register.

The Advantages of Being a Union Apprentice

There are many advantages to being a union apprentice. Here are a few:

  • Union apprentices have an opportunity to be placed by the union on a wide variety of construction projects while working for different union contractors.
  • Wages and working conditions are clearly spelled out in a standard agreement
  • When a union apprentice is laid off due to a lack of work, his / her apprenticeship is not in danger of cancellation.
  • Union apprentices receive a cash bursary while attending school.
  • The Standard Agreement sets out a ratio of apprentices to journeymen to ensure apprentices are hired and trained.
  • The procedure for starting an apprenticeship and being hired is straightforward and public – it’s not a case of who you know.

If you choose to indenture directly with your employer instead of the BC Carpenters Union, there are many obstacles to watch out for. For example, if you leave your employer, you have to ensure that the government apprenticeship office will accept credits from your next employer. You must also notify your government apprenticeship counselor each time you change employers and you must complete formal transfer papers. If you’ve indentured with the BC Carpenters Union, you will receive assistance with all of these complex procedures.


Earn as you learn Carpenter Union apprentices earn according to guidelines outlined within the collective agreements. Once indentured, an apprentice starts at 50% of a journeyperson’s wage. This increases 5% every six months over the duration of the apprenticeship term. As a union apprentice you will have medical and dental benefits, an industry pension, travel allowances, a form of wage loss insurance and life insurance in addition to the regular benefits such as Employment Insurance (EI) and Canada Pension.

Can Women be Apprentices and Tradespersons?

Yes! A number of women are now working very successfully as journeyperson carpenters and apprentices. The union, the construction industry and contractors are encouraging women to start a carpentry career through apprenticeship. It is not easy for women to start in construction but there is support and help from the carpenters union, other trades people, apprenticeship counselors and other apprentices.

If you’re currently indentured… Contact our Carpenters Union organizers. They can give you more information on the union apprenticeship program and help you transfer over if that’s what you want to do.

Contact us for more information on becoming an apprentice or joining the Union.