Afghan nationals Ibrahim and Ali were best of friends in their home country.
They arrived in Canada last year a few weeks apart, to start a new life. But they didn’t have a lot of money and job prospects were limited.
That changed in December when they attended a session about the skilled trades hosted by humanitarian organization Aman Lara and Helmets to Hardhats (H2H) Canada, a non-profit that helps veterans, reservists, senior cadets, military family members – and now Afghans – get into a meaningful second career in the unionized construction industry. Today, the two men are pursuing jobs in the skilled trades.
Their last names are not being published as many Afghan nationals still have family overseas and it could pose a security threat.
Both men attended safety training courses conducted by H2H and were sent safety equipment by the organization.
The training and equipment helped them on a career path in the trades. At the time, they didn’t have much money to spend on equipment. The training gave them the confidence to make a move towards their dream job.
Ibrahim is presently completing school while working for a cabinet making company. Ali was accepted into the construction skills – framing program at Niagara College Canada and after several more weeks of training will be starting on his career path with a paid, eight-week apprenticeship program at a local employer.
All thanks to H2H and Aman Lara.
With the federal government working to resettle at least 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada by the end of this year, the two organizations are working side by side with 14 building trade unions across the country to provide recently settled Afghan nationals with careers and apprenticeship opportunities in the trades.
Both organizations consider it a win as the program helps Afghan nationals get into the workforce while putting a dent in the labour shortage by providing sustainable employment and building a more diverse and inclusive workforce.
H2H executive director James Hogarth says the program eligibility was expanded in 2022 to include resettled Afghan refugees because of their sacrifices and support of the Canadian military when Canadian Armed Forces members were deployed in Afghanistan.
“By teaming up with Aman Lara, another veteran-led non-profit organization who works directly with Afghan refugees and the resettlement community across Canada, our combined efforts have informed more Afghans about the apprenticeship and training opportunities available to them in the skilled trades.”
To date, 19 Afghan nationals have registered with H2H through an online intake form, and eight have completed H2H safety training courses, a program funded by the Province of Ontario’s Skills Development Fund.
Most of the Afghan nationals are working with the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, which is composed of 31 affiliated local unions and represents members from Ontario to B.C. Over the last 18 months, many locals – including 27 and 675 in the GTA and 1946 in London, Ont. – have provided work opportunities to Afghan refugees.
“The inclusion of Afghans into the Helmets to Hardhats program is not only filling labour market shortages but also diversifying Canada’s skilled trade workforce,” says Hogarth. “Helmets to Hardhats will continue collaborating with Canada’s unions and like-minded organizations to assist additional Afghan nationals in finding and retaining stable careers in the skilled trades.”
According to H2H, the organization expanded its program eligibility to include resettled Afghan nationals because finding and securing well-paying, meaningful employment is a critical yet difficult step in the resettlement journey for many Canadian newcomers.
“Helmets to Hardhats believes that because of their sacrifices and support of the Canadian military, it is our turn to assist them,” the organization says in a statement. “Helmets to Hardhats is easing the transition into Canadian society with career and apprenticeship opportunities in the unionized construction industry.”
The program provides “direct and meaningful connections” to ensure Afghans interested in joining the skilled trades can break into the industry with little to no stress and no cost to the career seeker.
“The inclusion of Afghans into the Helmets to Hardhats program is aiding their successful transition into Canadian life by providing financial stability, earn-while-you-learn training opportunities, and access to health benefits and pension plans,” H2H says.
H2H works directly with the building trades unions to find clients careers in more than 60 different trades and occupations. The organization chose Aman Lara as a partner because it works directly with vulnerable clients throughout the evacuation process and assists them in their resettlement upon arrival in Canada.
Canada’s Building Trades Unions executive director Sean Strickland says the organization is proud to continue to support H2H and provide lifelong, rewarding career opportunities in the skilled trades to resettled Afghan refugees.
“We are committed to opening opportunities in the skilled trades to equity-deserving groups, including new Canadians and are working to ensure the construction industry strives to be more inclusive and break down barriers to entry to grow our skilled trades workforce while addressing labour availability across the industry.”