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A foot in the door
Writer:Hank Daniszewski

For the past 12 years, a labour union’s free pre-apprenticeship program has helped to bridge the skills gap.

It’s a conundrum that has bedevilled construction and many other business sectors. Lots of jobs to be filled, lots of people who need work but don’t have the right skills or training. Local 1059 of Laborers’ International Union of North America, which represents the London region, has been working to bridge that skills gap with a pre-apprenticeship program. With the London-area construction market surging, the need for new recruits is more urgent and the preapprentice program gives them a foot in the door. “There’s a definite need and this fills a gap, exposing young people to what’s expected on the job,” said Mike Ropp, Local 1059’s trading and apprentice coordinator. The intensive 12-week course centres on concrete finishing and construction craft workers. The course now includes hazardous material removal: workers who are trained remove asbestos, lead and other materials. Courses include the safety certification needed for the job. Students must be high school graduates who have been pre-screened and interviewed. The program began in early April and wrapped up in June. This year, there are 30 in the class, but the number varies year by year depending on the needs of the industry. The average age is in the mid-20s, but there are also older workers. Ropp said the program teaches practical skills partly through free construction for a number of non-profit community agencies. “It gives them a chance to go out and take some pride in their work,” said Ropp. Community groups helped over the years include the London Food Bank, Fanshawe Pioneer Village, Habitat for Humanity and Forest Edge Community Pool. By the eighth week, some of the students already have placements. When the program is complete, the union will find graduates apprentice positions with one of 200 London-area construction companies. After a 90-day probation, they are offered union membership and can start working their way to journeyman status. They start at $15 a hour and eventually work their way up to a wage package worth $44 an hour with benefits. Annual funding from the provincial Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development allows the union to provide the program tuition-free. Minister Deb Matthews, who also is MPP for London North Centre, said it is public money well spent. “We know that when we reach potential tradespeople early with introductory training, they stand a better chance of completing apprenticeship training and enjoying rewarding, well-paid careers in the trades,” said Matthews. Ropp said he has seen many lives turned around in the 12 years the union has operated the program. “It helps them become a productive member of the community. It’s a decent wage and they can provide for themselves and their families.”