Carpenters to Work with Indigenous Communities in Ontario’s North

The Carpenters’ Union wants to work with First Nations communities to find new skilled workers to fill vacant job positions. The communities are currently underrepresented in the building trades.

To explain this void, Gilles Bisson, outreach specialist, Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO), and former NDP MPP for the riding of Timmins, says, “Companies normally don’t want to do the training for (apprenticeship) trades.”

Bisson says the solution starts by ensuring Indigenous youths have the required safety training before they get on jobsites. The Carpenters Union is willing to take care of this training, which includes the occupational health and safety certifications. Bisson adds that the CDCO is the only organization doing that, as far as he knows.

There has never been a better time for youth to join the trades – many older workers are moving into retirement and all levels of government are investing in crucial infrastructure in healthcare, education, transit and with major projects like hydro and the Ring of Fire in the North. The prospects have never looked better.

After a certain number of hours spent working in the trade, Bisson says “if they think it is what they want to continue to do, they then can slide into our apprenticeship program.”

Bisson, who has been involved in First Nations politics for 30 years in the North, applauds the Carpenters union for seizing the opportunity to connect with First Nations peoples to help bridge that training gap; historically, many companies have overlooked the First Nations.

So far this year, The Carpenters Local 1669 has held two cohorts of a 10-week pre-apprenticeship carpentry course for First Nations with the Anishinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS).

About 70 per cent of the students who complete this course go on to a 12-week subsidized work placement, which allows employers to see if they are a good fit for their company, says John DeGiacomo, the AETS executive director.

Out in the field, jobs range from work on large institutional projects, to renovations for commercial/residential developments.

Pat Chilton, CEO of Five Nations Energy Incorporated, says one of the reasons many First Nations youth don’t pursue training is they can’t afford the cost of housing (if it is even available), and other expenses in a city away from their home. Many Indigenous residents from remote communities also face difficulty adjusting to the culture change in cities, and may face obstacles such as racism.

He adds that many young people who see a job with an Indigenous contractor waiting for them are more likely to take the training, in part because they have fewer chances they may face racism on the jobsite. Tax exemptions are another consideration as to why they choose jobs with First Nations contractors.

Sol Mamakwa, MPP Kiiwetinoong (Sioux Lookout), says he sees mostly non-First Nations crews on major construction projects up north, even though those projects are near First Nations communities where there are plenty of young people who could be trained to do the work.

It is essential that organizations like the Carpenters Union reach out to First Nations community leaders, and employment organizations, given that they have a clearer picture of the potential young workforce to draw from, notes Mamakwa.

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