[Interview] Construction Trades Program: Innovative Partnership for Refugee Employment

LiUNA! Local 506 serves a diverse group of over 8000 workers in the construction and industrial sectors. It considers itself one of the most multicultural unions in North America. After joining the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable in late 2015, it was clear that LiUNA! could respond to employment needs to Syrian newcomers, while meeting growing labour market needs in the sector, through partnering with key stakeholders around the table. Learn more about this unique partnership between LiUNA! and ACCES Employment called the Construction Trade Program.

LiUNA! Local 506 has been at the forefront of innovative training models for immigrants. Can you describe the refugee employment partnership between ACCES Employment & LiUNA! Local 506?

ACCES Employment has been assisting job seekers from diverse backgrounds, many who are newcomers, integrate into the Canadian labour market for over 30 years. Our employment services are focused on linking employers to skilled people and building strong networks in collaboration with community partners.

ACCES developed the Construction Trades program through a strong partnership with LiUNA! Local 506. ACCES and LiUNA! were both sitting on the Syrian Jobs Agenda Roundtable, convened by Senator Ratna Omidvar. When the initial talks began, we were ready to take action. Our partnership was really the beginning of this program. We learned that many of the new arrivals from Syria had skills and experience in construction and related occupations that were in demand here, and wanted to work in similar roles. From there, we brought on others such as the Ontario Masonry Training Centre, Refugee Career Jumpstart (RCJP), PTP Adult Learning and Employment Programs (PTP), and Catholic Cross-cultural Services (CCS). Arabic-speaking staff members and translators were hired to ensure that participants reach desired outcomes faster.

How does the program support refugee employment?

The Construction Trades Program currently supports Syrian newcomers to gain employment in construction-related occupations and apprenticeable trades through a multi-stakeholder, holistic program model. The program supports participants with on-going settlement and language needs, and focuses on assiting those with a desire to work as soon as possible.

Successful Program Graduates, June 2017

Successful Program Graduates, June 2017

Working closely with our partner LiUNA!, ACCES developed two streams of sector-specific language training relevant to the construction industry. Once participants obtain the required language level(s), they progress to pre-apprenticehip training that has been tailored to their needs and is delivered by LiUNA! or OMTC. Training focuses on health and safety and the rules and regulations for working in the construction industry in Canada. Participants who complete the pre-apprenticeship receive LiUNA! Certification which helps them access jobs with some of LiUNA!’s 700 plus signatory contractor partners in jobs such as: Material Handler, Forklift operator, Warehouse Worker, and other similar positions.

Other participants move next to apprenticeship training (e.g. For LiUNA!: Construction Craft Worker, Concrete Finisher and Pre-case Erector; and OMTC: Brick and Stone Masons) and/or employment. The program currently offers 3 streams, and participants are better equipped to obtain employment no matter which stream they have completed. Our partners provide critical wrap-around training and supports that include settlement and crisis counselling (CCSW), a training support worker who provides on-site interpretation and cultural competency support (RCJP), and sector-specific literacy training (PTP).

ACCES Employment coordinates the project partners and delivery overall, and provides intake/assessment, employment counselling and job search support, outreach to employers and employment placement, as well as post-hire retention support. LiUNA! and OMTC provide access to employment directly, or through their network of contacts in the industry.

Employer involvement is key to any successful employment program; what role does LiUNA! play in the development and delivery of the program?

ACCES designs programs in partnership with employers, this ensures we are preparing and guiding job seekers to areas of identified labour market need. LiUNA!’s role was critical from the outset of this program. LiUNA! has over 700 signatory contractor partners and a strong record of providing employers with well-trained workers, and identifying industry trends and hiring needs. LiUNA! was the gateway to facilitating employment for many program participants and they were involved in the program design in several ways: they provided the important labour market information about the roles/skills that are in-demand, today and in the future, by employers in the construction industry – both unionized and other roles; provided input to the development of ACCES’ sector-specific language training curriculum; engaged OMTC as a partner; and together, LiUNA! and OMTC collaborated to design and modify their pre-apprenticeship training for individuals who do not possess all of the language and qualifications to access Level 1 apprenticeship training immediately. Partnering with LiUNA ensured better employment outcomes for program participants.

How are refugees selected for the program? What criteria is used to determine suitability for the program?

Together with our partner, Refugee Career Jumpstart Project (RCJP), we connected with the Syrian community networks across the GTA to reach Syrian newcomers, their private sponsors and the settlement organizations supporting them.

The current program criteria include: language prerequisite is Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) Level 2, ability to fully participate in the classroom training, and previous experience, or a strong interest, in the construction industry. For the modified pre-apprenticeship stream, LiUNA! and OMTC require CLB Level 4, and interest and aptitude to work in construction roles available, and an interview is conducted by LiUNA! to determine participant readiness to enter this skill-training stream.

Although a significant percentage of our program participants have extensive previous experience in construction prior to their arrival in Canada, the program also provides the opportunity for participants with no prior experience in construction. The program enables Syrian newcomers to also have a chance at a “second career”, one that offers excellent job opportunities and a sustainable career path that will support them and their families.

When did the program launch? How many participants have successfully completed the program?

The pilot phase for the project was launched in November 2016. Training activities started rolling out in 6 concurrent and successive cohorts January – March 2017. All training streams had 100% retention/participation throughout. To date, the project has assessed over 143 individuals with 66 successfully completing one or more of the 3 program training streams.

Can you share with us how many program participants found employment with LiUNA! employers after completing the program?

It has been remarkable how quickly the partnership has moved Syrian newcomers into employment. To date, 20 participants are in fulltime employment through the project. 10 are in unionized positions: 6 with LiUNA!, 4 through OMTC’s employers. 10 others are in construction-related roles with private sector employers (e.g. contractors, home improvement centres, etc.) 4 other participants have received and are currently considering employment offers (1 union, 3 other).

The LiUNA! – ACCES Employment partnership is a successful model; how can other employers replicate it? How can other employers get involved to support refugee employment?

Key factors in a successful employment partnership model is to place and understand the unique needs of the participants at the core, and begin to design the model from there. Fully leverage the unique expertise, capacity, perspective and networks each partner brings to the table. Partners must agree on the desired objectives and outcomes, and most importantly, build strong trust and keep communication channels open at all times during the early pilot phase – remaining agile and adapting approaches throughout. Finally, engaging and collaborating fully with other partners based on their areas of expertise round out the recipe.

When the Syrian Refugee Jobs Agenda table identified the emerging needs of newcomers who were arriving, both partners were ready to respond and move quickly to action. LiUNA! provided critical industry knowledge (in-demand roles, curriculum content), training expertise, and direct connections to employment, apprenticeship, and other partners. ACCES provided strong expertise and a track record for designing and delivering outcomes-based employment services, knowledge about the needs of newcomers, ability to collaborate with community partners and employers, and how to seek funding for the work, currently supported by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development (MAESD).

Employers interested to learn more about this initiative, and want to get involved to support refugee employment can get in touch with should contact Hire Immigrants (hireimmigrants@ryerson.ca).

Based on the success of the partnership, the exceptional employment and apprenticeship outcomes, the program has been extended and will soon be taking on additional participants. Also, the partners are planning to adapt the program model so that more newcomers and job-seekers can access great jobs in the construction industry here in Ontario.

Read more Success Stories from the Syrian Refugees Jobs Agenda Roundtable