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Carpenters’ program helps build up disadvantaged youth

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Chiniqua Nelson, 23, has high hopes of becoming an apprentice in the trade of carpentry and she is taking a smart route to get there, she says.

Nelson is one of 11 young people enrolled in a carpentry pre-apprenticeship program operated through Dixon Hall, an outreach centre in Toronto.

In partnership with Carpenters Local 27, the City of Toronto and The Daniels Corporation, the eight-week program was tailored for disadvantaged students from low-income neighbourhoods. By covering carpentry basics, it aims to help students wanting to advance to apprenticeship understand what the trade is all about.

"This course touches on the things we’re going to need to know on the job," says Nelson, who is the only woman in the course.

Carpenters Local 27 is providing instruction at Dixon Hall as well as at the Carpenters Local 27 Training Centre in Woodbridge. Along with safety sessions, the curriculum covers basic formwork, scaffolding, floor installation and framing.

Students are required to build a wooden bench and toolbox to detailed specifications, says Clifton Donegal, instructor, Carpenters Local Union 27 Joint Apprenticeship & Training Trust Fund, which operates as the apprenticeship training centre for the Toronto union local.

"Math and English instruction are also on tap and the kids get some lessons in life. How to manage their money and deal with conflict are examples of class sessions," adds Donegal.

"These kids don’t all have an opportunity through ordinary routes to get into the system (workplace). This course is aimed at giving them a chance."

It is the second year in a row that Donegal has taught the class.

One of his students is Sean Giscombe, 24. Giscombe was working as a commercial roofer when he decided to try out the pre-apprenticeship program with hopes of going on to the carpentry apprenticeship program.

"What has stood out to me is all the tools we learn to use like mitre saws, levelers, whole punchers," says Giscombe. "I had never used these tools in my life so to be trained on them is a really great opportunity."

When the program was introduced last year, eight of the nine graduates landed work in the field, says Haris Blentic, director of employment services at Dixon Hall.

He says that organizers are looking for job placements prior to the program’s completion to allow for a smooth transition from the course to a job.

"A lot of training programs don’t go to the next step, helping students get work."

The program wraps up Oct. 17.

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