CCAT’s paid pre-apprenticeship program encourages at-risk youth to pursue construction careers

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Chiniqua Nelson says she fell into the skilled trades while looking for a meaningful and lucrative career after working in retail jobs for six years.

“I went to the unemployment centre, while still employed, to see what my options could be,” she said. “That same day I learned about a carpentry pre-apprenticeship program and I applied for it a few days later.”

Creating Real Apprenticeship for Toronto (CRAFT) is a 14-week paid pre-apprenticeship training and employment program targeted at at-risk and underrepresented youth residing in Toronto Community Housing properties.

The first four weeks consist of in-house life/employment skills training; health and safety training; and basic hand tool training. The remaining 10 weeks consist of work-placements with various subcontractors.

Participants receive supports including wages, tools, personal protective equipment and transit passes. Upon successful completion, they have an opportunity to formally start an apprenticeship with CCAT and to join the Union.

It’s a partnership with the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades Inc., Daniels Corporation, the YMCA of Greater Toronto, Toronto Community Housing Corp., and the Ministry of Labour, Training & Skills Development.

“The CRAFT program is an excellent example of what collaboration in the Construction industry can bring to a community- opening doors to great careers to youth in priority neighborhoods, instilling pride while building up the community,” said Mike Yorke, President, Carpenters District Council of Ontario.

“It’s also a great win-win for the union and our contractors as we need to engage the next generation in this sector as we have both continued growth and ongoing retirements.”

Following the four-week in-class training time at the CCAT training facility, participants pursue 10-week placements with various construction trades working on Daniels sites.

Chiniqua passed the assessment and happily started the xx program – the only female in a group of 11 students.

“My introduction into the trades was quite fun and warm,” she remembers. “My first instructor, Clifton, reminded me the importance of patience while I observed him with the other students in my class. A supportive, caring teacher creates an atmosphere for their students to strive. And I appreciated that lesson early on.”

Upon completion of the program, participants are eligible to apply for an apprenticeship agreement with Carpenters’ Local 27. Many of the program’s past participants have pursued union memberships and are now actively working in the field.

Chiniqua credits the knowledge and commitment of the instructors for her success.

“The bottom line is that they care about doing the best for themselves and for us students and it shows!”

Since that first day, she has completed a trim course, sketch-up 3D modeling, power elevated work platforms, formwork, and scaffolding.

“These skills definitely make me more employable and I can’t wait for this list to grow and my vision to expand. After completing each training, I got a better or new job opportunity.”

Her carpentry skills have helped the Toronto woman land jobs at Nordstrom and Saks Fifth, The Bay, Toronto Housing. And the Union Station events team and their summer food vendors.

Her experience is common as dozens of young people enrolled in the CRAFT program have continued working in the industry.

“This program is an investment in our communities and our youth – the next generation of builders, that will now have the challenge and opportunity to build their own legacy as they build the skyline of Toronto,” Yorke said.

“As we are constructing the built infrastructure of the city, we are also building the social infrastructure.”

As well as building carpentry skills, the program has helped Chiniqua set goals and she is looking forward to working in home building – hopefully building a home in its entirety from the foundation to the finish product.

And when the time is right, she would like to return to the CRAFT program as an instructor.

“I would love to teach,” she said. “Right here where I started! Help build the younger generation strong!”

COVID-19 has impacted the program in three ways:

  • Recruitment and selection of participants took place 100% on-line via TEAMs/ZOOM.
  • The number of youth accepted into the program was reduced to 10 to ensure physical distancing requirements while in class.
  • The program was delayed to August 4 from June 22.

The current class will run until November 2020 and a new intake will be scheduled early in 2021. For more information visit theccat.ca.

“Clearly we see this project as one that can be extrapolated across the country as it’s a great model with a great track record of success and transformed lives for youth – one that can, and should, be emulated elsewhere,” Yorke concluded.

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