Unifor’s National Skilled Trades Council is doing the heavy lifting to promote the trades in Canada and break down barriers that prevent participation from marginalised communities in Canada, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour.
“We have an obligation to the next generation of skilled trades workers to assist in every way possible,” said Dave Cassidy, Unifor National Skilled Trades Chairperson. “Skilled Trades workers are eager to help young people succeed and eliminate every barrier to the trades.”
The National Skilled Trades Council’s latest initiative brings together the union’s skilled trades advocacy efforts and the organization Pathways to Education that directly supports students and youth from low-income communities across Canada. Spearheaded by the Brampton, Georgetown, Milton and Oakville (BGMO) Area Sub-Council, Unifor representatives Mark McGregor (Local 1285), Dave Tesolin (Local 1285), and Darren Caerels (Local 707) recently presented to the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s National Conference. The BGMO discussed the union’s successful partnership with Pathways as an example of how skilled trades stakeholders, including academic institutions, industry, trade associations, and governments can effectively support youth apprenticeships and address long-standing barriers to participation.
The partnership includes both direct support from the National Skilled Trades Council as well as ongoing financial support from Unifor and Locals 222, 414, 444, 1285, 2458 and Unifor’s Windsor Area office, for a grand total of more than $500,000.
The Rexdale program supports students from grade 9 to grade 12 at more than 30 high schools in one of Canada’s most diverse and impoverished neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Our union works hard to strengthen the trades and give back to our communities at the grassroots level,” said John Breslin, Unifor Skilled Trades Director. “I am proud of the fact that this important partnership was initiated by one of our own retirees, Steve Watson who volunteers with the Pathways program in Rexdale.”
The Council and BGMO put together a team of volunteers to support the Rexdale program including Steve Watson, Mark McGregor, John Fitzgerald (Local 707), and Skilled Trades Council Vice-Chair Ken Anderson (Local 200) supported by Skilled Trades Director John Breslin and Skilled Trades National Representative Phil Fryer. Together, Unifor’s skilled trades volunteers provided participants in the program with training and information sessions, collected data, and established direct relationships with youth, students, parents, and teachers to analyze academic, socio-economic, and other barriers to participation in the trades.
“This was one of the most rewarding experiences our team has had, directly interacting with young people, parents and teachers. We could see the inspiration on people’s faces, which was just incredible,” said Mark McGregor, Financial Secretary of the BGMO. “To see so many of our skilled trades members come out and support this worthwhile program and be so eager to devote their time to what promises to be a game changing effort is incredible. We hope to see this program continue and grow once it is safe to do so.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily suspended Unifor’s in-person support for the Rexdale program but the union has continued to maintain contact with the Rexdale team and has donated tablet devices to support students through online learning. The partnership is an important effort that the Council remains committed to and continues to promote to support Ayouth apprenticeships and growing the trades in Canada.