June 27, 2009
British Columbia Construction Association program a STEP in the right direction
The B.C. Construction Association (BCCA) has developed a program to help an underutilized segment of the workforce get jobs in the construction industry.
“We are trying to enable Aboriginal people to get a job in construction, while helping construction companies with labour shortages,” said Randy Garon, project manager of the Aboriginal Skilled Trades Employment Program (ASTEP).
It was established more than a year ago to focus on the placement of Aboriginal workers in the construction industry on Vancouver Island and in northern B.C.
“We are looking for people who are employable and can go directly into work,” explained Garon.
“We can also help by directing people to other services, if they have barriers to going directly into work. Once ready for employment, we strive to find an employer that requires staff for placement.”
The program is designed to fill the gap between the size of the Aboriginal population and the number of Aboriginal people actively involved in the labour force.
Garon said the program is part of a larger initiative by the BCCA to address forecasted skilled trade shortages for BCCA members and the B.C. construction industry.
Similarly structured BCCA programs focus on immigrants, women, youth and older people.
“Basically, we do assessments and take individuals to the jobsite,” said Joe Thorne, who is a trades employment specialist with ASTEP and is responsible for all of Vancouver Island.
“I stick around with them through their orientation and check in with them periodically. I stick with them until they are comfortable on their own.”
The trades employment specialist is a certified trades person, who identifies skill levels and recommends the proper employment path for each individual.
According to Thorne, people who have lived and worked on the reserve may have to adjust to a placement in the construction industry.
They often need to improve their money and time management skills, as well as get used to working within a different group dynamic.
“I help people learn about each other’s culture and fill in the gaps by acting as a mediator,” said Thorne.
“I facilitate or find solutions to any problems that arise.”
The program increases employment opportunities for Aboriginal workers in the construction trades, by developing partnerships between industry, Aboriginal governance groups, tribal councils and elder groups.
“I enjoy the challenge of meeting with contractors and seeing their attitudes change,” said Thorne.
“I work with the majority of bands on Vancouver Island. I enjoy seeing people get an opportunity and make it. They can then become the role model for the next person.”
The trades employment specialist builds relationships with potential employers to connect them with new employees.
Once the connection has been made, they continue to work as a liaison between the employer and the employee.
It assures a successful match and can address any potential issues along the way.
“One of the advantages we have of course is representing the demand side of the equation, or representing the employer side of the industry,” said Garon.
“One of the actions we have taken is to try to create some sustainable employment by working with the individuals and relocating them to another project once they are done at the project they were placed on.”
He said sometimes this means the contractor will take them to their next project and sometimes it means transferring them to another contractor doing similar work on another project.
Since the ASTEP began on April 1, 2008, about 250 individuals have entered the program and it has placed about 160 workers into the construction industry.
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