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Youth Recruitment

Inviting a swarm of politicians, building trades dignitaries and media to
the ceremonial opening of the Interior Systems Contractors Association’s

newly expanded drywall training center has done wonders for the facility’s

“The phones won’t stop ringing,” explains Candi Colandrea, ISCA’s assistant
training coordinator. Callers want to know when they can enroll in either
the drywall applicator or drywall finishing programs at the fanciful new
digs in suburban Toronto.

At a cost of about $3.8 million (all numbers are in Canadian dollars), the
expanded facility was opened for business last July. But the ceremonial
ribbon-cutting even came seven moths later, with Ontario’s Economic
Development and Trade Minister Bob Runciman handling the scissors.
“Certainly it’ll mean construction will be stronger because of the key role
that skilled interior building workers have on the industry’s success,”
Ranciman told a crowd of visitors at the center.

The addition increases the size of ISCA’s complex by 8,000 square feet,
bringing the total square footage to 20,000. Another 10,000 square feet of
outdoor space was added for hands-on home building instruction. The
additional training space takes pressure off the now crammed center by
doubling the teaching capacity from 120 to 240 apprentices annually. That’s
great news for many people on the enrollment waiting list.

“The media coverage on the event has really got the message out,” Colandrea
says. The standing joke is that if the phones keep ringing, the drywallers’
association will have to start drawing up blueprints for another addition.
“The problem is we don’t have any more land; we’d have to develop the
parking lot,” she quips.

Hugh Laird, executive director of ISCA, says the best thing about the
ribbon-cutting event, which included speeches by some of the industry’s
statesmen and a food feast fit for a fine wedding, was that it
gave the many provincial politicians attending
an opportunity to tour the
training center. “It opened their eyes to
what we are doing,” Laird said.

Strong Curriculum

The training center runs drywall applicator
and finisher programs twice annually,
plus two advanced courses. Each
course is eight weeks long. Two fulltime,
two part-time and assistant training
coordinator Colandrea were hired to
handle the extra teaching load.

The bigger facility also offers a number
of upgrading courses for 600 tradepeople
along with an eight-week EIF systems
applicator course. Hands-on learning
plays a big part in the curriculum
with EIF systems being applied by students
to houses built on the grounds,
while steel stud modules present learning
opportunities for EIFS students
inside. Laird adds that plans are under
way to make space at the complex for a
course on asbestos abatement.

“With the expansion in place we believe
this is the best such facility in North
America,” Adolph Gust, president of
ISCA, told a packed meeting room at
the ribbon-cutting event. Along with
funding assistance from the provincial
government’s Strategic Skills Investment
Program, ISCA built the project in
cooperation with the United Brotherhood
of Carpenters Local 675, the
International Brotherhood of Painters &
Allied Trades Local 1891, and the
Acoustical Association of Ontario.
Union agents, manufacturers and suppliers
contributed hundreds of thousands
of dollars in materials and labor.

Colandrea was hired last July to assist
with the design and development of
classes within the two eight-week programs
offered. They are the Drywall
Finisher and Plasterer program and the
Drywall Acoustic Mechanic and Lather
program, which is geared to drywall
apprentices. The latter course curriculum
covers boarding, framing, steel
studs, blueprint reading, handling procedures
of hazardous materials, scaffolding
and computer and manual estimating.
About 60 to 65 percent of the program
is practical.

Working safely is the top priority in
instruction at ISCA, explains instructor
Steve Ellis. Along with proper usage of
tools, students are required to pass first
aid courses, including one on CPR.

After passing the eight-week course, students
put in at least 3,000 hours on the
job before returning to class for the
eight-week advanced course. Classes
cover more complex installation techniques,
including moveable wall and
accessible floor systems designed for
state-of-the art office buildings.

After successful completion of the
course, students clock another 2,400
hours on the job, then take exams for a
journeyman certificate, which entitles
them to top dollar and the freedom to
work in any province in Canada.

Recruitment Challenges

Colandrea says students enrolled in
ISCA courses range in age from 16 to
mid 40s. But the average age of visitors
attending a recent open house at the
center was 32. That number is significant
in that ISCA and other building
associations throughout the Greater
Toronto Area have been striving to
recruit younger students.

The average age of first-year apprentices
in the city’s building industry is a whopping
28. People like Laird would like to
see that number drop by eight to 10
years. To accomplish that, the association
has developed a variety of recruitment
approaches, including talks by
ISCA representatives at career days in
high schools around the city.

It has been an uphill sales job, however,
because societal pressures steer most
young people down academic paths to
university and community college. And
that has created labor shortages that are
bound to grow as the current work force
nears retirement.

Vern Zapfe, chairman of the training
center and president of Four Seasons
Drywall, a major contractor in Greater
Toronto, praises the association’s efforts
to get the message out to guidance coun-
selors at schools throughout the Greater
Toronto Area. “We’re just now starting
to reach younger people,” he says.

Ellis, an instructor in Drywall Acoustic
Mechanic and Lather trade at the center,
says its not the first time the building
industry in Toronto has been made
up of an older work force. When he first
entered the drywall industry in 1957,
known back then as the lather trade,
many journeyman were gray-haired and
nearing retirement. But by the 1960s
labor scarcities were put to rest when the
country embarked on a massive immigration
program. Throngs of skilled
tradespeople from European countries
such as Italy came to Toronto.

Ellis recalls a time when many tradespeople
had relatives in the industry. It
was considered good, honest work, and
fathers were proud to see their sons take
pride in their trade. But today’s older
generation discourages their children
from taking careers in construction. “You
rarely see a son and father in the trade
now,” Ellis explains. “They tell them to
go get a better education; don’t do what
they did.”

Since he started teaching at ISCA in
1993, he’s noticed that younger people
are coming through the front door for an
education. They are a brighter lot than
the young tradespeople Ellis hung with
in his youth. “They are easier to train
because they come in here better educated,”
he says.

To make a case for a career in the drywall
trades, ISCA argues that many young
people choosing university over a trade
end up weighed down by a huge debt.
Those graduating with a bachelor of arts
degree, according to statistics, land jobs
only paying around $30,000. Many of
them don’t even make that much, only
able to find work in minimum wage jobs
(about $7 an hour). Graduating drywall
students, however, won’t be faced with
huge tuition debts, and they land piecework
jobs paying $28 to $32 an hour,
plus benefits. Well-established drywall
applicators or finishers can easily make
$55,000 annually Laird adds.

From a recruitment perspective, Colandrea’s
role is to attend a range of events,
including school fairs and trade shows.
“What really hits home with the kids is
our (recruitment) video,” she says. It is
an overview of the construction of the
Air Canada Centre (home to Toronto’s
professional hockey and basketball
teams). The video features interviews
with professional athletes that the teens
identify with. “The idea is to get the kids
attention and the video seems to do
that,” she says.

Another successful marketing ploy is the
two 30-second advertisements ISCA
runs on live television broadcasts of
Toronto Maple Leafgames on Saturday’s
Hockey Night in Canada, a long-standing
tradition with much of the younger
male population of the nation. “The
response has been fantastic,” Laird points

Construction Challenges

The newly expanded training center was
completed with the assistance of a $1.22
million grant from the provincial government
through the Strategic Skills
Investment Program. Laird says after
four years of trying to get government
help, he was “pleased as punch” when
the grant was finally awarded just over a
year ago.

For the construction of the new wing,
the original plan was to use student
labor, but the idea was abandoned
because coordinating construction
around class time proved to be a scheduling
nightmare. ISCA did get assistance
from unions that support the center,
however, “and we got hundreds of thousands
of dollars from suppliers for building
materials,” he adds. The cinderblock
addition is clad in EIFS.

But the association’s efforts to get government
assistance don’t stop there.
Laird is applying to the federal government
for funding to put a study group
together to develop a training curriculum
for mold remediation. The group
would be comprised of hospital and
school board administrators as well as
environmental contractors that normally
remove toxic mold. His objective is to
have a course running by year’s end.

About the Author

Don Procter is a free-lance writer in
Ontario, Canada. He also is the author
of this magazine’s Up North column.
He will report any further developments
on this article in his future columns.

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