Mt. Slesse middle school teacher Eric Munshaw was one of five industrial education teachers who spoke to B.C. Education Minister George Abbott on Tuesday about safety concerns in shop classes.

Shop teachers talk safety with education minister

Education Minister George Abbott hears shop teacher concerns, including those from Chilliwack teacher Eric Munshaw.

B.C. Education Minister George Abbott has promised to take seriously safety concerns made by industrial education teachers.

He has asked his staff to review recommendations that were made in a two-hour meeting held on Tuesday, and to meet back with the trades teachers within two to three months.

Abbott also requested the industrial education teachers review suggestions made by him and his ministry.

“I thought they made some very, very good points about how skills training and shop classes might be improved,” Abbott told The Progress in a phone interview Wednesday.

“Obviously they want their shop classes to be as safe as they can possibly be … everyone’s in agreement on that point.”

The meeting between Abbott and five representatives of the BC Technology Education Association, including Mt. Slesse middle school teacher Eric Munshaw, was held on Tuesday at the World Trade Centre in Vancouver.

The meeting extended two hours, and was the result of safety concerns made by trades teachers, which are contained in a best practices guide developed by BCTEA last year.

BCTEA is concerned with the size of shop classes, which have been increasing across the province for the last few years. Shops, which were designed for 20-24 students with 24 work stations are now, in some cases, exceeding 30 students. For many teachers, they feel they can no longer guarantee the safety of their students.

Since 2007, there have been 705 reported injuries in industrial ed classes in B.C.; 24 from the Chilliwack school district, 17 of which occurred in the last year.

The BCTEA has recommended all shop classes have no more than 20 students by September 2012.

“I’ve heard their suggestions in that regard and will be discussing their suggestions with my senior staff, and will be thinking about those issues as we look at this area potentially for improvements,” said Abbott.

Abbott suggested a training program be developed for educational assistants to equip them with the necessary skills and experience to support shop teachers in the classroom. He plans to follow that up with Canadian Union of Public Employers (CUPE) which represents educational assistants.

He also acknowledged the importance of trades training in the classroom.

“I think they are going to be of increasing importance in the months and years ahead without a doubt,” he said. “The government has made clear its intention to try to ensure every young British Columbian has an opportunity to play an important role in a growing and diversifying economy. If we are going to equip our young people with the skills that will provide them with those fulsome employment and career opportunities than we need to think about more skills training opportunities in our schools and classrooms.”

Teacher Eric Munshaw, who didn’t know what to expect going into the meeting, was pleased coming out of it.

“Bottom line, I think we got his attention, and he wants to continue the conversation,” said Munshaw.

A follow-up meeting will be held in two to three months.