The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) and Aecon have partnered to provide support to construction workers who have been laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing access to training and mentoring programs.
The NexGen Builders Mentorship Program prepares workers who have been historically underrepresented in the construction industry to enter the workforce. The program is geared towards those in their final stages of pre-apprenticeship training, to support them through the intake process with the union and the first year of their apprenticeship.
Although the session is usually offered in person, due to COVID-19, TCBN will now conduct training for the program online with the assistance of Aecon.
“We were concerned that when COVID struck that people who are racialized or who have been underrepresented in the industry for a long time, having been the last in, would naturally be the first out,” explained Rosemarie Powell, executive director of TCBN.
“Aecon realized that they could work innovatively with our community to help support those people who have been laid off from the job or for those who were in waiting. Through the community benefits stream, what happens is that we are preparing a pipeline into the construction industry, so some people have luckily been able to get an opportunity through the projects that are underway now, but there were a number of them who were also waiting in line.”
Aecon provided financial, technological and in-kind support that will allow the TCBN to create capacity for new entrants and triple the available training spaces in the program. Although the program was only offered to black youth, it will now be available to everyone, said Powell.
In addition to funds, Aecon is also providing access to their virtual classroom and the expertise of their facilitators and content developers to deliver the program online.
“We knew it was going to be challenging trying to get people to be able to plug in online and we needed resources for that. We also wanted to have the support and expertise of one of the major players in the industry,” said Powell, adding TCBN first started working with Aecon on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and Finch West LRT projects.
“In a pandemic, concepts like equity get put on the back burner, but if we’re not addressing those issues for those who are the most vulnerable and those who are impacted much more harshly than others, then we will have a lot of unintended consequences.”
The financial support will help cover a portion of additional costs for participants, such as internet access and childcare. Selected mentees and peer mentors will be compensated up to $500 to remove any barriers to participation plus an additional $500 honorarium for peer mentors.
“We did provide them with a financial contribution to the program to help people to get access to things like WiFi and technology to access virtual learning, but more importantly we also suggested that we help them develop the technological platforms to deliver their training in a more reliable and sustainable way. We have given them access to our Aecon University,” said Gordana Terkalas, senior vice-president of human resources with Aecon Group Inc.
One hundred and fifty new spaces have been made available and about 30 peer mentors will be needed. There will be 16 sessions for mentees and four for mentors.
Aecon University, which has been established for eight years, has the platforms and the tools for distance learning, explained Terkalas.
“They’ve got content already developed through TCBN so we are helping to facilitate that and we also offered to provide our expertise and our learning developers expertise in creating new content,” she said.
While unions do a great job with apprenticeship training programs, the TCBN training is geared toward providing pre-apprenticeship support.
“It’s more of the soft skills training that are not as prevalent in the technical apprenticeship programs that helps them maximize their potential for success,” said Terkalas. “Working in a workplace, no matter how technical, requires a degree of soft skills to help people effectively do their job. That’s a gap I think the TCBN and certainly Aecon is well positioned to help fill.”
Taking the program online means workers will stay engaged and prepare themselves for when the economy opens up.
“We know when the recovery starts to pick up, this is what we have seen historically, is that construction becomes the driver of the economy,” said Powell. “Government wants to invest heavily into building their infrastructure.
“You have got to be ready to go and also with COVID, there are also new learnings that people will have to go through.”
Some of the topics in the program include the apprenticeship pathway and experience, effective communication and conflict management, financial literacy, empowerment and racism resiliency, Indigenous awareness and women in trades. Certificates such as workplace violence and harassment, Workplace Hazardous Material Information Systems, personal protective equipment and hand tool awareness can also be completed online.
For more information on the program visit NexGenBuilders.ca.
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