Government Aids Wallers?

Don Procter

July 2008

Good news could be around the corner this summer in Ontario for wall and ceiling associations if the provincial government keeps its budget promise to allocate $200 million in capital funding over three years for training center expansion.

The Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario would have a place for money in a minute—its $4.5 million training facility under construction in the Toronto suburb of Woodbridge.

"We fully intend to apply when that process becomes apparent,” says Ron Johnson, the association’s deputy director.

To date the province hasn’t contributed a penny toward the 27,000 square-foot facility, scheduled for its first class intake in November. Funding has come from ISCA’s partnership with its contractor members and its union partners, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades and the Carpenters & Allied Workers Local 27.

Carpenters Union Local 18 (Hamilton-Niagara) also hopes to score on the government’s $200 million plan. It currently runs apprenticeship training for 40 to 75 drywall acoustic students annually. "We would like to build a (training) center on the back of our building to become more involved with hands-on carpentry apprenticeship training,” says Barry Walker, business manager for Local 18.

Several years ago the union applied for funding under a provincial program that was mothballed before the first government check was signed. That $3 million to $5 million building would have offered training in scaffolding, formwork, peri-formwork, insulated concrete forms and framing. Walker says Local 18 will resurrect the building plans as soon the province announces its $200 million plans.

"It may be modified slightly based on our budget restraints,” Walker says. "You have to make a five-year plan and make sure to allow for a possible downturn.”

Local 18’s current digs are on seven acres in Hamilton, about 50 miles southwest of Toronto. The $1.3 million facility was created in 2001 with little outside financial assistance.

Meanwhile, ISCA’s new training digs, adjacent to the association’s three-year-old, 56,000 square foot training centre in the Toronto suburb of Woodbridge, will have the capacity to train several hundred students annually. Emphasis will be on exterior insulation and finish systems, and hazardous worker training, such as asbestos and mold abatement.

"It’s an exciting step for us to take—taking what is already considered the best training centre in North America and make it bigger and better,” says Johnson, adding that ISCA offers more training.

The ISCA project follows on the heels of its 56,000 square foot training facility that opened in 2005. At the time, it was billed as the shining star in the wall and ceiling world throughout North America. At that facility (the Interior Finishing Systems Training Centre) 30 drywall mechanics and 22 drywall finishers can be trained every two months, and there is space for other trades training. But after being in operation only three years, it is already bursting at the seams; reason enough for the start-up of the current expansion project.

"The people involved in the purchase of that property had the foresight to purchase additional land that would allow for this expansion,” Johnson says. Belrock Construction Limited is construction manager for the new two-floor structural steel project.

While filling classroom seats hasn’t been difficult at ISCA, Johnson admits that it is still a hard-sell to convince youth that a career in the wall and ceiling industry can be a viable one: "We look to government to help us by providing a greater investment in apprenticeship training.”

Don Procter is a free-lance writer in Ontario, Canada.