As development in the GTA is reaching a fever pitch, those who are on the ground building the city of tomorrow may be facing a coming crisis that could spell trouble for the booming construction industry. The various construction trade unions have been sounding the alarm in recent years over an impending shortage of trade workers, as a large chunk of the industry is set to retire in the coming years. There are currently not enough apprentices rising through the ranks to replace those leaving the professions, but a host of community outreach programs are looking to recruit new hires and spread the message that the trades are a viable and rewarding career path, while breaking down social stigmas with programs aimed at introducing diversity into the industry.

UrbanToronto recently contacted Carpenters' Local Union 27 to find out more about what initiatives are underway to recruit new apprentices into the carpentry trade. Through the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT), a non-profit educational facility located in Woodbridge that serves the needs of the Union and its over 800 signatory employers, a number of active programs are expanding the outreach of the apprenticeship program and are focusing on involving local community members.

Carpenters Local Union 27, College of Carpenters and Allied Trades, TorontoRendering of 80 Atlantic, a wood structure mid-rise, image courtesy of Hullmark.

The Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) is one of the more popular province-wide initiatives, carried out in partnership with nine school boards across the GTA, where students in Grade 11 or 12 can get a head start on their apprenticeship with co-op education. The CCAT is a proud partner of the program, which has seen well over 1,000 students participate since it began.

The CCAT also began the CHOICE Pre-Apprenticeship in 2005, which provides an opportunity for at-risk youth to work and train in construction within their own communities. The twelve-week program provides paid on-the-job training at a designated Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) property as an introduction into the industry. Upon completion of the program, participants have the opportunity to continue on into an apprenticeship in the construction trades which they have been exposed to, and are provided with job placement assistance and follow-up support by the program partners. As of 2015, CHOICE boasted an 89% success rate with 151 participants having graduated.

22nd annual National Apprenticeship Competition at Roundhouse Park, image courte22nd annual National Apprenticeship Competition at Roundhouse Park, image courtesy of UBC

Further programs that the CCAT are directly involved with include initiatives to recruit and train people of colour, recruitment programs for Indigenous people, outreach programs for underprivileged youth, and a mentorship program that gives women entering the profession an opportunity to connect with experienced female carpenters in the industry. Carpentry is still a very male-dominated industry, but the CCAT points out that this is changing, and there are several mentorship programs and recruitment initiatives in place that are helping women to succeed within the profession.

One recent community outreach initiative is being tested with the construction of the Crosstown LRT. A Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) was introduced by the province and signed by Metrolinx, Infrastructure Ontario, Crosslinx Transit Solutions, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, and the United Way, which stipulates that roughly 10% of all trade and crafting hours would be carried out by local labourers and apprentices who live along the transit corridor, and who have had previous difficulties finding employment. The Carpenters' District Council of Ontario had reported an initial success, having recruited 30 to 40 new workers through the agreement.

Carpenters Local Union 27, College of Carpenters and Allied Trades, TorontoRendering of Mount Dennis Station of the Crosstown LRT, image courtesy of Crosslinx.

The CCAT is optimistic that the coming shortage in carpenters can be remedied through its various community outreach initiatives, which look to tap into new talent pools and introduce greater diversity and opportunities for success in the workplace. The CCAT is hoping to spread their message far and wide, that carpentry and the construction trades are viable options for all those seeking employment and can lead to rewarding and successful careers. We will look forward to the continued success of the trades as Toronto and the GTA continue to build for the future.