Inner City Diary
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Renovation training: tougher is better...
August 31, 2003
Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the set of what some have called “Survivor Winnipeg.” Fifteen of twenty contestants were still in the contest, and after this weekend, we’ll know how many survived their final test.

There’s no million dollars awaiting a single winner in this contest. But each one who completes the grueling course will receive their “Level One Carpentry” certificate. Each will likely gain employment in the trade for which they were trained. If all 15 students pass their final exam, there are 24 jobs waiting for them.

There’s a growing shortage of skilled tradesmen in the residential construction industry. According to one report, it will be almost two years before there are enough contractors to rebuild all the homes in British Columbia after the fires. But even Manitoba homebuilders are crying for workers.

I’ve seen some training programs that scam more benefits for trainers than they deliver to trainees. It doesn’t really matter to some if their students never learn a skill or understand a work ethic.

But this is not that kind of a program! Lindsay, Pat and Mark lead the classes. Between them, they share over 100 years of experience in the trade. They take personal pride in turning out skilled and accomplished students. They know and respect the needs of the trade.

The Manitoba Residential Construction Training Institute is run by the Manitoba Homebuilders and funded by Manitoba Advanced Education and Training. Their course involves 20 weeks of concentrated training in construction skills. There are nine weeks of classroom and shop training. Then, for eleven weeks, these trainees come to our neighbourhood to help us rebuild our community.

I remember going to school and wondering if the information in textbooks and taught in class could ever be utilized in the ‘real world.’ Looking at the course description for these folks, however, I don’t think there’s much time or breath wasted on useless information.

From first aid to math, reading blueprints and using tools, this course is crammed with necessary information. Framing roofs and building stairs involves calculations, layout and construction. These are skills far beyond those of a weekend handyman. Carpentry involves more than framing walls and cutting lumber. So they learn about foundations and concrete, drywall, suspended ceilings, and many other aspects of renovations.

It’s a real-life work-site, complete with inclement weather. One house was started in winter with blowing snow and temperatures of thirty below zero. Months later some work on that same house was completed in muggy temperatures well over 90 degrees.

The demolition work is so dirty there’s no way to look pretty and keep your hands clean. In one morning, the crew hauled roughly 56,000 pounds of lathe and lumber, plaster and concrete out of one of the buildings.

One guy, a foreman wanna-be, decided to watch his classmates unload a truckload of 2 by 4’s. The instructors decided that the best way to pass the message about not slacking off was to have him unload the next load – heavier 2 by 10’s – by himself.

Students even learn from their mistakes. Several students were cutting out some old pipes in an old building, and suddenly got doused by some rancid water trapped in the pipes. The stench was so revolting, one started puking. The whole crew left the building and returned only after obtaining an adequate supply of javex, masks and mops.

The two guys that got doused were too wet to wipe off, so they had to travel home on the bus. So if someone next to you on the bus stunk really bad a couple of months ago, don’t be too hard on them. It might have been someone who got a little dirty helping us fix up an old building.

You can teach vigilance in the classroom, but there’s no better place to learn than on the worksite. One student got careless and crashed through a ceiling into the room below where she was working. Students emptied the contents of two first aid kits but gained a deep respect for their work and their workplace.

In the end, they gained some real-life skills, developed some lasting friendships and helped restore some homes in our community. It was another good class for their program.

If you qualify for Employment Insurance or Employment and Income Assistance, you can apply for their next course this fall. Just call the office at 957-7366 to get an application.

And if you’re a potential employer in a construction-related trade – you can call the same number for some well-trained folks who are pretty eager for jobs. I can say that because I saw them work.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929