Calgary’s Bow Valley College is not about to pass up a good dating service.
One of the latest endeavours, the Youth Internship in Residential Construction, matches up unemployed or partially employed youth with voracious construction companies through a three-month ‘blind date’.
“On the one hand, we have an industry screaming for people. On the other hand, we have people screaming for jobs. So Bow Valley College saw an opportunity to bring the two together,” says program manager Randy Patmore.
The program fits with the college’s primary vision of getting people into the workforce fast, and it fits with the dreams of individuals struggling to find the right niche in the construction industry.
|Photo courtesy of Bow Valley College|
|Students in the program listen to Dave Nehring, vice-president of construction management at Heartland Homes.|
The program partners Bow Valley College with the Carma Centre for Excellence and is funded by the federal government’s Youth Employment Strategy.
Adam Vernon, 24, and Richard English, 25, two students in the program’s pilot program, have traversed the construction landscape and are ready to focus on a specific trade and make a career of it.
English saw the program information posted, gave the college a call and had his first interview the following day. One week later he was enrolled in the program.
“It made me feel good – that there was a good opportunity there – because they wanted people right away,” says English, who wants to start a career in cribbing where there’s lots of work and lots of hours.
Immediacy has been an integral component of the initiative, fast-tracking in response to the urgent need for workers in the construction industry. (The average age of tradesmen in Alberta is over 40, with many retiring within 10 to 15 years, says Patmore.)
A proposal was drafted late last year, accepted by the Canadian government early in January and brought into action by Feb. 10 (when the college began its pilot program).
Forty-five applicants were attracted through marketing the program to the 60 agencies in Calgary dealing specifically with unemployed youth.
They were interviewed to discover previous construction experience and the depth of desire for a career in the industry.
Applicants were then put through Bow Valley’s Test of Workplace Essential Skills, which tests individual’s ability in math, reading and document use. The two-and-a-half-hour exam required an 80 per cent grade to pass.
The final recruitment hurdle consisted of a medical examination and a functional assessment to determine if the physical aptitude to work in the trades existed.
The 15 applicants with the highest overall standings were invited to the four-week orientation process, followed by two months of on-the-job employment in the trade of their choice (framing, cribbing, sheet metal or drywall). Grade 12 was not a prerequisite, yet those who qualified received high marks on the academic side of the process.
The orientation focused on bringing the students up to skill level in math, reading and career skills, as well as addressing soft skills through the Bow Valley program called Skills for Working, Learning and Living.
Trade-specific training was not included, but information was given through site visits and visiting speakers. Occupational Health and Safety and the Alberta Construction Association Safety taught first aid and WHIMIS.
“At the end of it all, I really wouldn’t change a thing from the orientation. I think we hit the right areas and we hit them in the right way,” says Patmore, adding they created the syllabus around what the builders said to be important.
Three participants dropped from the course before the four-week theoretical portion had expired.
“Through the orientation, we wanted to be able to help people discover for themselves what the industry is about, what the expectations are and what would happen once they got out there on to a jobsite,” says Patmore.
Vernon speaks positively of the classroom segment and is looking to get a journeyman ticket in sheet metal, eventually funding the pursuit of chemistry studies at university.
“If I decided I wanted to get into a white collar job, then I have the decision to stay or to go – and to have something to (fall back on) if I do choose to go,” says Vernon, who is working with Central Air for the practical portion of the program.
The first day of the on-job part of the program (March 10), it was -20 degrees C with the wind blowing, providing a crash course on the tougher elements of the trades.
“It’s tough work at the best of times. It’s high and it can be dangerous . . .” says Patmore. “(But) there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity right now and the possibility for moving into other trades are really there.” Working with reputable employers is a huge challenge for young adults not experienced in the trades, but the course enables the college to put its 35-year’s worth of contacts in Calgary to use, connecting participants to quality firms.
Participant wages for the practicum are being provided by the Youth Employment Strategy. The construction industry partners have supplied much of the information required for the orientation and arranged work placements, often bumping up wages to a livable sums.
It appears that the intent behind the program has merit, and the pilot project may well reach its government-ordained objective of 70 per cent of applicants continuing in the trades months from today. True success would be found through duplication in the college and other venues across the province, multiplying the benefits, widening the reach . . . and undoubtedly testing the relationship between government, school, construction firms and unemployed youth.
Spotlight on Trades: This column is part of a continuing look at the issues confronting trades and the construction industry in Alberta. Let us know your views by contacting Kenton at email@example.com.