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Blue Door seeks to solve labour shortages by training vulnerable

'Everbody really wins,' shelter charity CEO says of program that trains for construction sector

Markham resident Darnell Preddie said getting into Blue Door’s Construct program helped him turn his life around.

The program from the York Region charity offers its vulnerable denizens the chance to get job training in the construction sector, an area in significant need of workers.

“I was homeless and unemployed before I got into the program,” Preddie, now a full-time mason, said. “What I learned from Construct has taken my life to the next step … I received numerous offers for work because it stood out on my resume and I am forever grateful for that.”

As the job market faces labour shortages, Blue Door says there is an opportunity to train those in need of work. The charity started its Construct program two years ago, helping 116 graduates since then break into the labour market. It recently got another funding boost from RBC, with a $100,000 grant going to help ensure participants can be paid a living wage during the eight-week training.

Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite said it has been “the single biggest change-maker program” for them.

“Youth go through who are getting meaningful work, making a meaningful living wage,” he said. “At the same time, getting into the trades, which are desperately needing people to help us build more housing. Everybody really wins.”

The program was inspired by issues with other programs, Braithwaite said. He said vulnerable individuals would go into jobs and struggle with wages or not have meaningful work.

“It didn’t lift them out of poverty. It actually kind of diminished hope,” he said.

Construct was also inspired by a similar initiative called Building Up Toronto, which helped kickstart Blue Door’s version. Braithwaite said Construct soon saw success, with 85 per cent of graduates finding employment within six weeks of completing the training.

“You can’t truly end homelessness if you don’t prevent it from starting in the first place,” he said. “It gives them the tools to get a career where they can make enough to afford rent in the GTA, (and) where they have purpose and meaning.”

Matthew Marcoccia of Richmond Hill is another graduate from 2020, now working as a general contractor. He is helping build York University’s new campus in Markham.

“The thing that excited and impressed me the most was the team atmosphere, as the leadership team genuinely cared and had a passion for the program,” Marcoccia said. “Many of the mentors had previous construction experience and were able to support me along the way when working on a job site.”

An RBC study showed Canada could face a shortage of at least 10,000 workers nationally in recognized Red Seal trades over the next five years, which the company said swells tenfold when including 250 provincially regulated trades.

The program stands to help build needed homes, Braithwaite said, but he added this model could be used in other sectors.

“The health-care sector right now desperately needs a lot of support or personal support workers,” he said. “Colleges or universities that could help with those labour shortages, help get them back. At the same time, get people into a great job.”

Blue Door is looking to expand the Construct program to other locales, including through a partnership with Home Depot.

“My dream for Construct is its building a lot of the affordable housing that’s needed in the future,” he said. “That’s really helping and being a part of the solution in the housing crisis.”

“I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the opportunity for the world,” Preddie said. “It is a great opportunity for anyone considering getting ahead in life.”