By Lincoln DePradine
After reading a Caribbean Camera article on the shortage of Black Canadians in the skilled trades, J.R. Dash decided she was going into training to become a professional carpenter.
In keeping with her planned career change, Dash embarked on a 10-week training course and is now in the first year of an apprenticeship with the Carpenters’ & Allied Workers’ Union Local 27.
She had a chance last Monday, at an event organized by Local 27 in collaboration with The City of Toronto, to thank everyone – including the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) – for helping her “to get where I am today’’.
Monday’s information session and open house in Woodbridge, according to organizers, were held so that participants can learn more about the skilled trades, especially given that “opportunities for underrepresented groups in construction are increasing’’.
More than 80 people, including representatives of trade unions, community groups and the City of Toronto, attended the half-day session.
“When I started this thing two weeks ago, I was expecting 20 people,’’ event chairman Chris Campbell told The Caribbean Camera. “The phone calls just kept coming, organization after organization kept calling and asking to be a part of it. They found it important to be able to share this with youth in the community.’’
Reports are that Black men and women, and people from other racialized groups, make up just 1.2 percent of participants registered in an apprenticeship system program in a trade skill, training for a job to become a professional such as a carpenter, roofer, painter, electrician, scaffolding specialist, cement finisher, floor covering installer, brick and stone mason, welder, and high rise rodman.
Ontario, especially the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), is experiencing a construction boom. However, not only is there a shortage of skilled labour, but it’s also forecasted that many in the current workforce will be retiring in a few years.
According to Phil Gillies, founding executive director of the Ontario Construction Consortium, 18 percent of Ontario’s unionized construction workers are 55 years and older.
“This represents 21,000 workers who are within 10 years of retirement. And, we have a shortage of skilled people already,’’ Gillies, a former MPP for Brantford, who once served as Ontario’s minister of skills development and youth, said Monday.
Economist John O’Grady, the keynote speaker, projected that “construction trend will remain strong in most regions of Ontario’’, and the GTA “will generate roughly half of construction employment’’.
“In the summer of 2019,’’ said O’Grady, “more than a quarter of all cranes operating in Canada and the United States were operating in the GTA.’’
The GTA’s crane count, O’Grady added, is almost equal to the combined total of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Apart the building of apartment units and condominiums, transit construction also will add to the demand for skilled labour, said O’Grady.
He told the carpenters’ representatives that “over the next three years, you will need to recruit the equivalent of 11 percent of your current membership to meet the growth and demand’’ for labour.
TCBN’s role has been trying to ensure that “historically disadvantaged communities and equity-seeking groups can access opportunities from major infrastructural projects’’, said Rosemarie Powell, executive director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network.
She said TCBN has signed Community Benefits’ Agreements (CBAs) with the owners and operators of several major infrastructural projects. They include more than 200 people who, through TCBN’s signing of a CBA, have been employed on the Eglinton Crosstown transit project.
“We’re here today because of our strong interest in seeing members of our local communities, where these projects are located, benefit from the well-paying jobs and opportunities associated with these projects,’’ she said.
Powell added that there still is a need to know “a lot more about how the hiring and recruitment systems work, including the important role of unions in recruiting new apprentices for specific trades and the dispatching workers onto the job site’’.
Rick Gosling, a co-founder and current president Second Chance Scholarship Foundation, was among the participants at Monday’s session.
His organization, which helps incarcerated youth turn their lives around, announced last year that it had embarked on a program to connect more young people to trade unions that offer job opportunities in skilled trades.
“The more children that we can save, the better,’’ Gosling said Monday in an interview. “Sitting here, I’m thinking how we need to start at such an early age. Instead of even 10 and 11 – five, six, seven, eight years of age, start recruiting these children. Develop their skills and make sure that they’re all seeing this as a fabulous opportunity for them to have a good life, with good salary and pension.’’
Campbell, business representative for the Carpenters’ & Allied Workers’ Union Local 27, wants the participants to now “go back to their community and just spread the word’’ about opportunities in the skilled trades.
“We should capitalize on it and give our youth a chance. These are good-paying jobs. Let’s make it happen,’’ he said.
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