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Student Construction Day opens up door to trades

Ron Stang
Student Construction Day opens up door to trades

It’s called Student Construction Day and is an opportunity for secondary school students to spend a day outside their classrooms with construction trades for a more realistic work environment.

The event has proved a hit with both.

The United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 494 has long had a strong relationship with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB). The union has long provided health and safety training to the public board, the area’s largest, as well as co-op placements.

So, as an extension of this, for the second consecutive year the union opened its training centre to Grade 11 and 12 students who are in the Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) course, where students express interest in trades and the program helps them explore and refine those interests.

Krysta Brosseau, a business guidance counselor with the GECDSB, said the day goes some way in fulfilling this goal, noting that, even if only for one day, it allows students to get a “real sense for what is out there, what might be a next step in their (career) pathway.”

Sure, inside the classrooms, the students get some experience in trades such as carpentry. But, let’s face it, school board budgets are tight, and lack of facilities and materials often mean students are reduced to planning and constructing only small projects, such as building workbenches or sawhorses.

By contrast, Student Construction Day puts them in a very realistic environment, having them instructed and guided by tradespeople, both from the Carpenters as well as other unions. And, the projects are designed to expose students to some of the most common types of construction work.

“So, it’s giving them exposure to really what the trade’s all about,” said Local 494 president Shawn Ramey. “And, it allows us to recruit people in the high schools because we have such a shortage of trades.”

This year, some 65 students from three high schools attended.

The day started with an orientation, with a drop-down screen providing information on the workstations, where they were to assemble structures, the tools they would use, and the safety requirements.

There were four workstations — one was scaffolding, another drywall installation on previously student-built sheds, and a third was concrete formwork. The sheds were affixed with the schools’ logos and were donated to Habitat for Humanity. The fourth workstation was installing hardwood floors.

The concrete formwork was a simple 20-by-20-foot garage foundation with the tradespeople having started the corners.

Throughout it, students were putting their math learning to the test.

“The whole purpose is to directly show the correlation between mathematics and the practical use of it,” Ramey said, “because a lot of time the teachers are having issues with students saying, ‘Why am I learning this, how am I ever going to use it?’ ”

For the concrete formwork workstation, students used math to calculate the volume of concrete and then the panel sizes to keep the structure intact, “which is actually a little more complicated than people may think,” Ramey said. For the flooring, students had to determine the amount of hardwood to fill a specific perimeter.

“They had to calculate how much flooring they would need,” said Ramey. “They got to actually cut and install the hardwood flooring.”

At the end of the day the students “absolutely loved” the experience and at least 10 of them who are graduating this year asked about doing apprenticeships, he said.

“They got to actually see what we do in the trades. Granted it was in a perfect environment — the floor was perfectly smooth and when you’re doing formwork in an actual jobsite you’re dealing with mud and you have to deal with different variables like weather.”

The union donated $2,000 — $1,500 for the flooring alone — and pulled tradespeople off construction sites to come to the union hall and train the students.

Ramey said for next year’s Student Construction Day there will be different tasks. “We’re trying to change it up, so they get exposure to everything that we do, not to the same thing over and over again.”

Brosseau said having students do actual work was key.

“Last year, we found that the kids ended up standing and observing more than they would like,” she said.

Seven of the students who participated were female.

Having Local 494 so connected with the program means the door is already partly open to the students once they graduate.

“They help us get students in placements in the field so students would just have to go to the union hall when they’ve got their diploma and say, ‘I’m ready to go,’ ” said Brosseau.

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