For Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario’s Chris Campbell, reaching out to help young, disenfranchised people take positive steps towards construction careers is nothing new.
For many years, even after his work days have ended, Campbell has volunteered to support good causes, often steering youth off dead-end streets onto successful paths in the apprenticeship trade.
Now, however, that mission will play a larger part of Campbell’s job description as he moves from being a business representative to equity diversity representative, a newly created post in the Carpenters’ Union.
Embracing his new role, the 52-year-old is pleased at how it all came to be.
“Tony Iannuzzi (the Carpenters’ executive secretary-treasurer) saw the need to have a full-time person to be involved in community benefits and diversity-related issues on building projects across Ontario,” Campbell said.
The job will see him working with governments, social agencies and developers on large infrastructure developments such as Toronto’s subway, LRT and hospital projects that have Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) in place.
A CBA requires a percentage of the project hires to be from the surrounding communities, including disenfranchised neighbourhoods.
“I see myself reaching out to urban young people – including incarcerated youth – and mentoring them through the apprenticeship process.”
The job is one of collaboration with the likes of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), which has struck partnerships with construction companies and governments to ensure that disenfranchised youth have trade opportunities on major projects. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is a case in point.
Campbell says times have changed in many diverse and lower income neighbourhoods where community leaders no longer accept going unnoticed.
“The construction industry and three levels of government have heard from local communities that community benefits agreements are needed on these multibillion dollar projects in their neighborhoods,” he explains.
Campbell sees his job as “an opportunity for the Carpenters’ council to take the lead in recruitment and mentoring of youth from urban and even rural areas of Ontario.”
No stranger to giving a helping hand for decades, Campbell’s resume includes volunteering for organizations such as the Toronto Breakfast Club, Helping Hands Jamaica, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Black Business and Professional Association and the Toronto Police Service.
Rosemarie Powell, executive director of the TCBN, calls Campbell “a champion for community benefits and for equity, diversity, inclusion in the industry.”
Campbell has been instrumental in helping young people into trade careers since Powell met him about five years ago, she says, noting that since COVID-19 in March, Campbell has helped more than 100 young people find work in the trade.
“He has been a master mentor in giving Black youth support and advice in the NexGen Builders Mentoring Program,” Powell says, noting the program is a community, labour, industry partnership to support under-represented groups on their journeys into careers in the trades.
Mitzie Hunter, MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood, has been involved with Campbell on a number of community initiatives, including one in which members of the carpenters’ and painters’ unions volunteered to paint the Jamaican Canadian Association’s facility.
She believes Campbell is tailored to his new post.
“I think he is a terrific role model and will help to attract more people from diverse backgrounds into the trades,” she says.
A staunch supporter of CBAs, Hunter sees them as a means of creating on-ramps for young people and others into construction careers.
While Campbell goes into his new post knowing he can’t make major changes overnight, he is optimistic that he can have a positive impact on the lives of young people on the edge.
“I am open to learning new skills in this role and genuinely believe I can make a difference with the support of the membership, executives and leadership of our organization.”