For many young people in the child welfare system, a stable career seems out of reach. Already facing high tuition costs and an extremely competitive job market, most of these youth are also struggling to overcome the effects of past traumas, including abuse, neglect, and extreme poverty.
With the construction industry predicted to be short approximately one million trades workers by 2020, it offers a promising opportunity for many of these vulnerable youth who, by pursuing a career in construction, can break the cycles of instability from which they’ve come.
It was this idea that initially peaked the interest of Tridel executives and led to the establishment of Building Opportunities for Life Today (B.O.L.T.), an organization that focuses on helping vulnerable youth, including those from the child welfare system, land jobs in the construction industry. Founded in 2009 in partnership with the Children’s Aid Society and Children’s Aid Foundation, B.O.L.T. has since established community, government, and industry partnerships and awarded youth with over 100 scholarships and bursaries through partner agencies like the Children’s Aid Foundation.
Identifying a need for young people with limited resources and opportunities to explore the many different construction career paths, B.O.L.T.’s Day of Discovery was founded as a joint event with George Brown College to offer these youth extra support and guidance. “Initially, it started out as a day for youth in care to visit construction sites and tour the Centre for Construction and Engineering Technologies( now known as The Angelo DelZotto School of Construction Management) at George Brown College,” says Joanne Bin, executive director of B.O.L.T. “This is the first year we’ve changed the format of the program. The kids are going to spend most of the day on site and will spend some time at George Brown College participating in a hands-on activity.”
Set to take place on May 21, the Day of Discovery will place 45 young adults between ages 16-29 on Tridel construction sites, right in the heart of the action.
Bin explains that at the end of the day, youth will have the opportunity to sign-up for a two-week job shadowing experience through which they can shadow a specific trade or department of interest. “I think a lot of kids don’t have the knowledge about the diverse opportunities that are available,” Bin says. “They never think about the management opportunities or the professional opportunities in engineering. We have project managers; we have site superintendents who manage the whole site. Then we have all of our consultants; we have architects, we have structural engineers, we have interior designers. There’s a whole range of professions associated with construction.”
Once youth have identified an area of interest and successfully complete two weeks of job shadowing, B.O.L.T. will help them secure scholarships to attend post-secondary school or refer them to Hammer Heads, a 12-14 week intensive program focused on the trades. “The kids who graduate from [Hammer Heads] are placed in apprenticeship positions,” says Bin, adding that it’s very difficult for young people to obtain apprenticeships without pre-existing connections. While Bin says that Hammer Heads involves extremely rigorous training to mimic life on a job site, the program has had a very high success rate for those who have managed to complete it.
“We’ve had a lot of young people who’ve come through the Children’s Aid Society who have completed Hammer Heads and are now earning a great wage and in a position to purchase their own homes.” says Bin. “It changes lives.”
For candidates who choose to attend post-secondary, B.O.L.T. offers mentoring opportunities that connects them to Tridel staff. “If we have someone, for example, who is going onto construction management and wants to be a site super, we’ll pair them with a site super so they can help them in terms of deciding what courses to take and their career paths. Really, what we like to do is track them right through and then help them find a job at the end,” says Bin.
As an industry filled with growing demand, construction offers a wealth of opportunities that can take those who work hard to amazing places. “There’s a shortage of skilled trades people,” Bin says.
“Once [our youth] have their ticket, they can work anywhere.”
They just need to be given the opportunity to succeed.