A Tridel-sponsored program for disadvantaged inner-city youth is a formidable tool in steering such young people away from gangs and gun violence.
Building Opportunities for Life Today (BOLT) shows youth from public housing projects like Regent Park and Alexandra Park that if they stay in school they can get on a career path in construction where there are highly paid jobs.
It starts with a job shadow on a Tridel construction site for two weeks to see if construction is a good fit for them, says BOLT executive director Joanne Bin.
The second phase is to provide scholarships for those who want to take those first steps. BOLT is funded by Tridel and the industry which has raised more than $900,000 since 2010.
“We started in 2009 connecting young people to careers with the Children’s Aid Foundation,” she said. “Then a group of people in Tridel started raising scholarship money for disadvantaged youth and hired a manager.”
BOLT was established as a charitable foundation in 2013 and hasn’t looked back.
The process starts with an open day of discovery in October where up to 60 potential candidates take a live tour of a site and spend some time at George Brown College.
Of those, sometimes 30 candidates are accepted for the two-week shadowing program, Bin says. From there, the number is whittled down to as few as 10 or 11 who go forward with that year’s intake, she adds.
BOLT loans them boots and gives them a hard hat and provides TTC tokens for travel and a $100 weekly stipend to cover essentials.
Hares “Abdul” Yousufi’s path is well on the way to success today, thanks to BOLT. He’s about to close a deal on a house in Pickering, Ont. and get married next year.
It wasn’t always that way. Living in Alexandra Park, he was working at odd jobs such as a security guard and looking for a way out of the inner city projects.
We need to get to them at 11, 12 and 13-years old. We need to find these kids and introduce them to careers in construction
— Joanne Bin
Building Opportunities for Life Today Program
Then came BOLT. At 20-years-old, he signed up, job shadowed and then was introduced to the Hammer Heads program, which was created by the Central Ontario Building Trades to support at-risk youth.
“They (Hammer Heads) work you but it’s a chance to see what you are good at and what interests you,” Yousufi says.
Today he is entering his third year of his electrical apprenticeship at Jay Electric, one of Tridel’s sub contractors and looking ahead to a bright future.
“BOLT also saved me money and time in terms of college,” he says. “It is so hard to get into an apprenticeship program.”
He doesn’t hesitate to evangelize the program.
“It really is worth trying,” he says. “Once I knew, I knew there was nothing that was going to stop me.”
Bin says Yousufi’s story is what makes it all worthwhile.
“You need to know that construction is right for them because it’s not right for everyone,” she says. “The day starts at 6:45 a.m. and they are expected to be on time and to have a good attitude.
“They can’t work but we create a work-like environment. The site superintendent will also gauge how interested they are, whether they ask relevant questions, and provide lunch with the trades on the site.”
Also, Bin says, in communities where Tridel is actively engaged developing housing, local youth have an open invitation to job shadow at any time, without having to go through the yearly intake process.
“We are actively engaged in those communities and we want to work with the youth there,” she says. “We have a commitment to them.”
The program then assesses each application and they can be streamed to a hands-on construction program such as Hammer Heads.
Candidates are also referred to Building Up, another program creating opportunities and breaking down barriers to apprenticeships and careers in the trades.
But it’s more than just talking up construction trades or the construction sector as a job, she adds.
Many of these youth see no life outside their public housing communities and they often see those who have the money, the cars etc. are those in the drug trade which usually means they have a gang affiliation and access to guns if they’re not already packing a weapon.
“We really have to start early,” Bin says. “We need to get to them at 11, 12 and 13-years old. We need to find these kids and introduce them to careers in construction. Let’s work with them for 10 years to keep them on track. Some of these behaviours in those communities won’t change. It’s hard. But we also have mentorship programs.”
Those programs work because these mentors are from that community and they have proven that their choices made an impact on their lives, she says.
“They have moved out, bought a car, house,” she says. “It’s not good enough for me to go in there and talk to them, they have to create a mentoring program where kids from the community talk to kids in the community about how they lifted themselves out of that lifestyle.”
The BOLT program has become more than a job for Bin. It’s become a vocation and something she plans to continue working with upon retirement at the end of this year.
“I want to work with musicians, especially some of the rap musicians, about talking to these kids. They have a presence in those communities.”
BOLT also does what it calls Speak Outs where they talk to kids in Grades 6, 7 and 8.
“We introduced them to careers in construction. We had a couple of people who were from the community and are working in construction come in and talk to them,” she says. “There’s resistance from the school boards but we need to do more of that.”
Kids also need to know there’s an array of trade possibilities beyond their usual top three interests of electrical, plumbing and carpentry, she adds.
“They really don’t know what they don’t know,” she says. “We go into local high schools but high school is late. And they have to have Grade 12 math, English, physics, and chemistry. That’s what we tell them, to stick with the math and the sciences.”