LIUNA Local 506 has officially opened the doors of a major new expansion to its training centre in Richmond Hill, Ont. — and not a moment too soon, said director of training Ted Gedney, given the clamour for skilled labourers from its contractors.
“Our employers have a ferocious appetite for our people,” said Gedney from his office in the new facility, which at 46,000 square feet represents almost a tripling of the existing training capacity at the site. “Right now, there is a tremendous amount of work. Contractors are inundated with bidding and quoting jobs, and many of them are reluctant to bid on work because they are not sure they will have the manpower to complete the work.
“We just weren’t able to meet the demands in our former facility.”
The $23-million expansion officially opened Nov. 14. The new facility supplements the 19,000-square-foot existing building that was built in the early 1990s and a 7,000-square-foot “barn” used to train concrete finishers. It’s located in a prominent spot on Major Mackenzie Drive close to the street, spotlighted with ample signage and not far from Highway 400.
LIUNA (Labourers’ International Union of North America) international vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada Joe Mancinelli said the new facility will assist LIUNA’s comprehensive recruiting and marketing strategies designed to build the LIUNA brand. The branding, which includes sponsorships, advocacy, project investments, community outreach and promoting the benefits of LIUNA membership with its promise of lots of work and a good pension, makes existing members feel proud, Mancinelli said, and creates confidence and a sense of comfort in the general public.
“This centre is only one part of the process of getting people out there, the training part,” he said. “This is when we have already overcome some of the issues of recruiting and we get them in here. Our contractors are desperate for our skills and this is where the training happens.”
We wanted something attractive so that people look at the trade school as having college-type appeal,
— Ted Gedney
LIUNA Local 506
The last two years, the facility has graduated 150 apprentices each year in the Construction Craft Worker, Precast Erector, Concrete Finisher and Hazardous Materials Worker programs after dropping to a low of around 80 a couple of years ago due to the strains of construction. Gedney expects to train 200 next year and move on from there.
In recent years, with the limited space, there were up to 50 potential apprentices on a wait list. That will now be eliminated, said Gedney.
The centre is also busy on weekends, when journeypersons take skills-upgrade courses.
The size of the six new classrooms was important, Gedney said, with large spaces required to do mock-ups and use props inside the classroom.
Previously, there was one training bay that held equipment at night and had to be emptied out during the day to permit training. Sometimes two programs would be active in the bay at once, creating logistical problems and safety hazards.
Now, there are four spacious bays.
There has also been a lunchroom installed, a multi-purpose room for graduations and small events and new office space.
Gedney explained, “We wanted something attractive so that people look at the trade school as having college-type appeal, something that looks professional. It’s all about recruitment and getting people and parents to understand that the trades are a viable alternative to post-secondary education. We have jobs, we have careers.”
With the four programs, LIUNA trains workers to acquire such ICI skill sets as formwork, concrete finishing, restoration, concrete sawing and drilling, mason tending, general labour, precast, demolition and waterproofing.
Local 506 also represents and trains workers in the hospitality, trade show and waste management industries.
The local, with its 8,000 members, shares geographical jurisdiction with the much larger 183. The former undertakes ICI construction work in the GTA while 183 does roads, bridges, utilities and residential work and some ICI work in more distant regions, Gedney explained.
The new facilities come equipped with modern teaching tools such as touch screens, tablets and Google Classroom, just as school boards have.
“Processes are changing and equipment is changing,” he said. “Gone is the day when you think of a construction worker using a jackhammer breaking a hole somewhere. When is the last time you saw a jackhammer on a job? Today they are an attachment to a skid steer or a mini-excavator.”
The primary contractor on the training centre project was Northern Structures, the design consultants were BNKC Architecture and Urban Design, the owner representative was Gordon+Gordon Group, the planners were Malone Given Parsons, the civil engineer was Cole Engineering Group and the landscape architect was Terraplan Landscape Architects.
Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.