Just a few months ago David Semen’s office was tucked into the corner of the boardroom at the old building of the Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre in suburban Toronto. Like other staff and students at the facility, the apprentice liaison officer was squeezed into a building bursting at the seams.
Today, Semen, who watches more than 640 or so drywall and EIFS apprentices in Ontario, has his own office and room to breathe at the new custom-built IFSTC, a couple of miles north of the old facility. To celebrate the new 56,000 square foot building, which is also home to the affiliated Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario, a gala grand opening was organized this past July.
Organizers have reason to show off their new digs. The $5.5 million training center is probably the finest of its type in Ontario, maybe in all of Canada. What’s more, it is more than twice as large as its predecessor.
"It is a great state-of-the-art training facility,” Semen says. "I only wished and dreamed to have something like this 17 years ago when I got into the trade.”
While 24 drywall mechanics and 16 drywall finishers are trained every two months, the center can accommodate at least six more students in each class, he points out. At least one class of EIFS apprentices will be trained annually at the site as well.
"What was happening at Garyray (the former training building) is that the space was tight and getting a bit hazardous. Drywall and taper apprentices were bumping back to back,” Semen says.
Among those in attendance at the grand opening was Ontario’s Labour Minister Steve Peters. He told a packed luncheon that the loss of trades training programs in high schools will be difficult to replace, but the training center is a step in the right direction to filling the gap.
Peters says an estimated 48,000 construction workers will be required to replace retirees in Ontario over the next eight years.
While the liberal provincial government might now see the importance of trades training, years ago the wall and ceiling association was turned down by the then conservative government when it requested funding assistance for construction of the new center, says Hugh Laird, ISCA’s executive director. Rather than sit back and grumble, ISCA members pooled their resources and built the new facility themselves.
The building cost about $5.5 million, with additional $2.5 million spent for the land, Laird says. The only government aid came from a $40,000 federal government grant that covered half of the costs for the new training equipment, which includes scissor lifts, boom lifts and stage elevator platforms.
Derek Petrie, health and safety instructor at the school, says because it wasn’t always possible to outsource this equipment at the old training center, students often went without training. That didn’t sit well with contractors. "They want a guy who already knows how to run this equipment,” Petrie says. "They don’t want to spend a day or two showing them how to figure it out. Now we can give the guys hands-on experience on the shop floor where it is a controlled environment and they are supervised.”
About the Author
Don Procter is free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.