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Youth gain hands-on experience

Fazeena Samad

A one of a kind pre-apprenticeship construction program, aimed at helping ‘at risk youth’ gain work skills in the industry, is taking shape at Ambercroft Labourers’ 506 Training Centre.


Program teaches at-risk youth construction skills


A one of a kind pre-apprenticeship construction program, aimed at helping ‘at risk youth’ gain work skills in the industry, is taking shape at Ambercroft Labourers’ 506 Training Centre.

The program began in December with 16 participants and runs for one year. It includes both in-class and hands-on training in material handling, concrete form work, mason tending, demolition, concrete pouring, cement finishing, erecting and dismantling scaffolding.

Daniel Redstar, an apprentice in the program, says he wants to be involved in the construction industry, and the program gives him the opportunity to do so in the future.

“It has given me a better understanding of the construction industry in general, a better understanding of how to help create a safer working environment. I have been involved in construction before and it is something I would like to continue with in some way,” he explained.

The Pre-Apprenticeship Program is a partnership between LIUNA tri-fund, Ambercroft Labourers’ 506 Training Centre and Operation Springboard, and is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“The program, two years in the making, is an initiative to get challenged youths off the streets and out of trouble,” explained Dallas Boyer, Apprenticeship Advisor for Operation Springboard.

Referrals for the program were accepted from several sources, including the City of Toronto’s Youth Employment Partnerships (Y.E.P.) network, Toronto Police Services, Ontario Probation and Parole offices and the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.

The screening process includes a basic math and reading assessment, but participants are chosen based on need.

Jack McLaren, Director for the Ambercroft Labourers’ 506 Training Centre, said he has had the idea for a while.

“We wanted to get a program like this started and we went through a lot of ideas, but we decided on this partnership because it met most of our standards. And it has been the tradition of labour unions to help groups that need help,” he told Daily Commercial News.

Ambercroft provides a bus to transport apprentices to and from the Scarborough area.

Boyer says most of the apprentices in the program live in “at-risk” areas with little opportunity for training and without this program, they will probably never find employment in the construction industry.

“Most of these kids find it difficult to access the labour market; in many ways, their address is a problem. Employers are beginning to notice more and more postal codes from high-risk areas, so they are reluctant to take them on,” Boyer explained.

“This program gives them the opportunity to get into a trade. There is definitely going to be a huge labour shortage in the construction field, so there will be job opportunities for these youth.”

Shareece Pagnello, the only female apprentice in the program, became involved because it offered limited in-class time and more “practical training” in construction skills.

“This program made the construction industry look better. Now, I have something to look forward to as opposed to going to school and sitting there for four years and maybe not having anything in the end,” she said.

Boyer noted the pre-apprenticeship program has been successful so far because it concentrates on hands-on training that will easily translate to the work site.

“We try to make it as realistic as possible. We scold them when they do things wrong, but most importantly, we commend them when they do something good. You have to remember that for a lot of these kids, positive reinforcement is something they are not used to,” Boyer added.

Adrian Lawson says he does not mind being yelled at if it means he will learn more about the construction industry.

“The program is very quick. You learn everything hands-on, and the instructors are experienced, so they get you motivated. I need to learn hands-on; classes don’t do much for me,” he said. “So this will give me a chance to get a job and make some money.”

A study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada shows most employers who hire apprentices do so to satisfy their workforce needs. The statistics also show 86 per cent of employers with apprentices on their staff will hire more within the year.

And nearly 90 per cent of the employers surveyed said a key factor that contributes to them hiring an apprentice is they had met the basic required skills.

“Once they are finished school, they go on the ‘eligible to hire list’ and as projects come up, contractors will take people from the list,” Boyer said.

“Statistically speaking, over half the kids may be hired out to work on commercial and industrial sites as labourers.”

The program is unique since it also involves basic life skills training by Operation Springboard. For most of the apprentices, the program offers a chance to build life skills to help them in their future careers.

“A lot of them have no structure in their lives and that is something we try to give them here.

“They have to try to break their bad habits because they can get fired from a site for showing up late,” he explained.

The program also offers participants WHMIS, first aid, CPR and fall arrest training with the possibility of becoming a Construction Craft Worker apprentice.

Boyer says he hopes the program expands next year to offer more placements and a continuous in-take process, but it all depends on funding.

“There are more kids who are starting to get into it; at least, it is an option that has been presented to them. They are asking when we will start assessments again, because they have a brother or a cousin who would like to apply.”

The federal government recently offered a job creation tax credit to business as an incentive to hire new apprentices.

The tax credit will see eligible employers receive a tax credit equal to 10 per cent of the wages paid to qualifying apprentices in the first two years of their contract, to a maximum credit of $2,000 per apprentice per year.

In addition, a new Apprentice Incentive Grant, effective in early 2007, will provide a cash grant of $1,000 per year to apprentices in the first two years of an apprenticeship program in one of the Red Seal trades and other “economically strategic” apprenticeship programs.

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