Trades unions combine to provide workers skills needed to get real jobs


QUOC TRUONG HAS A REAL JOB. He’s a licenced steamfitter. He’s also a Hammer Heads program graduate­—one of over 500 workers who have gained the skills they needed to get solid, well-paid jobs in the licenced building trades.

The Central Ontario Building Trades Council (COBT) created the Hammer Heads program in 2009, after the violence-plagued “summer of the gun” in Toronto. COBT is made up of 25 trade union affiliates, representing over 80,000 skilled Ontario men and women. The nine table officers and trustees are all union officers.

Hammer Heads is a skills training program designed to open a path for youth from at-risk and under-represented communities to a registered apprenticeship career in the skilled construction trades.  

All the Hammer Heads training is hands-on at various union training facilities. Currently, the program trains 45 youths per year.

‘A leap of faith’

Truong grew up in Regent Park, Toronto. He came to Canada as  a Vietnamese refugee. He graduated from Hammer Heads 10 years ago. He is now a licenced steamfitter.

He said he “dropped out of college, dropped out of university, and didn’t have a path or direction. I was working from one dead-end job to another” before a social worker suggested he try Hammer Heads.

“It brought awareness, where I could see, touch and feel the different trades,” he said. “I didn’t know anyone in the industry.

“I took a leap of faith and here I am today.”

Finding the right fit

Nattisha Johnson worked in a child-care centre, then as a nanny, but none of it was the right fit—until she found Hammer Heads. Now she’s a certified ironworker  journeyperson, earning $44.08 an hour, plus pension and benefits.

“What made Hammer Heads so big for me is that I have daughters, and being in the trades—which is predominantly male—was a good thing for me because I was going to be their role model,” said Johnson.

Johnson says working in the trades is a good fit. She likes the early morning start because it allows to her be home with her daughters for dinner and bedtime.

Her daughters, now nine and 10, “love it,” she added. “My youngest, she is a future ironworker in the making.”

14,000 construction workers needed

Most unionized construction workers in Ontario earn about $80,000 to $100,000 a year. The province is currently in need of about 14,000 construction trades workers.

The provincial government recently provided more than $350,000 to create 390 additional spots in Hammer Heads.

The province will also provide $218,200 in funding for the Pinball Clemons Foundation to help mentor the Hammer Heads students as they work to obtain their trades certificatio; as well as money for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 353 to provide virtual training.

Hammer Heads runs six programs a year with 15 to 17 students at a time. With the pandemic, that number has been cut to nine. In total, Hammer Heads has led to 561 young people seeking apprenticeships.

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