When the Technical Trades Academy (TTA) — the training arm of the United Association’s Local 67 in Brantford, Ont. — opened its doors to a welding, plumbing and steamfitting pre-apprenticeship program in 2011, “it was tough to find students,” says Ian Harper, training co-ordinator.
Times change with success.
The word has spread, particularly in the aboriginal community, that the pre-apprenticeship program can be the starting point to a skill that launches graduates into an apprenticeship program at the TTA and on to good jobs in the trades.
"Our reputation has grown to the point that we don’t have to advertise to fill classes," says Harper. "It’s all word of mouth now."
The reason for this is that the TTA has fostered relationships with a number of aboriginal organizations in the area, such as the Grand River Employment and Training on Six Nations and the Niagara Peninsula Aboriginal Area Management Board (NPAAMB). As an example, 15 pre-apprentices obtained through the NPAAMB this year have learned the basics of welding over 13 weeks at the academy and moved on to eight-week co-op placements and employment, says Harper.
Cathy General, partnership and apprenticeship co-ordinator for the NPAAMB, says the board aligned with the TTA in 2007 through a pre-apprenticeship program called PipeDreams Brantford. Since then the two have partnered on eight pre-apprenticeship programs, with 12 to 15 students in each session.
General says 60 to 75 per cent of the students successfully complete the course.
"The partnership has been a great opportunity for our youth," she says, adding that the TTA takes five students from each graduating pre-apprenticeship class into the first year of the apprenticeship program.
Regardless of whether a student moves on to apprenticeship or not, she says the pre-apprenticeship session is important for students because "it boosts their self-esteem to a point where they continue their education and/or go on to secure employment in other industries."
One of the recent students of the pre-apprenticeship program at the training centre is Jasmine Thibert. With a college diploma in early childhood education, Thibert had been a teacher and team leader for a local aboriginal agency for a few years when she started thinking seriously about a career change.
"Honestly, it was because one day at daycare one of the toilets broke and I was in charge of fixing it, which was strange because it wasn’t in my job description," she says. "I did it anyway and someone told me plumbers can make more than lawyers so I thought I would look into it."
With no background in building trades, the 24-year-old surfed the Internet for ways to get in the field. When she discovered the pre-apprenticeship program at the TTA that covered welding, plumbing and steamfitting, she was quick to sign up.
"When I first started welding I was scared, but I had really good instructors to help me through my fear," says Thibert. It didn’t take long for her to "fall in love with welding" and after scoring top marks in the 22-week program, she was offered placement in Level One of the welding apprenticeship program.
"The teachers thought I had a natural skill for it."
This year about 50 welding pre-apprentices and 75 apprentices will be trained at the TTA while another 375 tradespeople, including journeypersons, will go through other classes at the 30,000 square foot training centre, says Harper.
The TTA is building a name for itself around the province and the country, he adds, noting that in the past three years, 16 of the TTA’s apprentices have won first, second or third place at provincial and national apprenticeship contests.
After completing the 10-week theory and practical segments for Level One trade school (the welding apprenticeship is three years long), Thibert hopes to land her first job in the trade this winter. Her long range goal is to own a truck and welding rig and contract out her services.
Thibert’s advice to young women considering a career in the field: "Don’t feel like anything or anyone here (at the training centre) will be in your way. They are very encouraging. This place has made me feel like I can touch the stars."
Owned by United Association’s Local 67, the TTA is funded through union dues, its manufacturing partners, the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities and the United Association Canadian Training Fund.