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Teens ‘Experience the Trades’ across Ontario

After listening to L-128’s Leah McIntyre give a presentation about the Boilermaker trade, students try their hand at welding and rigging.

Teens across northern Ontario learned about Boilermaker work and tried their hand at MIG welding and rigging, thanks to the innovation of the Women’s Committee at Local 128 (Toronto, Ontario) and a mobile welding trailer they obtained through a government grant. When the committee first formed over a year ago, leadership identified recruitment and retention as its foremost concerns and it’s no surprise they achieved both objectives.

They wanted to target high schools for recruitment and hands-on education about Boilermakers, but distance between schools and lack of appropriate welding and rigging equipment posed a problem, one an outfitted trailer could solve. That’s when L-128 Women’s Committee President Kim Quinn wrote a grant proposal to raise funds for an educational mobile welding trailer for their hands-on program “Experience the Trades.”

They received $250,000 from the federal government for the new venture, which covered the cost of the trailer and equipment, as well as funding for another Women’s Committee member, Leah McIntyre, to travel and visit schools across northern Ontario. Quinn said it wasn’t easy navigating the grant world, but they found an advocate in the government who helped to shepherd them through the process. After securing the funding and ironing out all the details, McIntyre worked with the Ontario Youth Apprentice Program to book visits at schools across northern Ontario for the “Experience the Trades” hands-on program.

The biggest hurdle the group overcame was in purchasing and registering the trailer in time to meet the grant deadline. Before buying the trailer, they had to find their organizational VIN number and the name of the Boilermaker who first requested it for the union back in the 1970s. They searched, made urgent calls for help and eventually, they found what they needed languishing on microfiche, buried in a government office. With the clock ticking down, they met the deadline with only one hour to spare, according to Quinn. They’d finally obtained an empty trailer but had only two days before school visits were to begin to prepare it for students.

McIntyre needed to hit the road for her first school on Monday, so she outfitted the trailer with lightning speed, over one weekend, with a helping hand from her husband. The wood-lined trailer wasn’t fire retardant, so McIntyre lined the floor with steel plate then bent it up to cover the walls. To power the trailer, she created a through-the-wall electrical system, so a generator could run on the outside of the trailer to protect students from carbon monoxide. She also fabricated and mounted a burn table, mounted MIG welders to the walls, and added a ceiling fan to ventilate the trailer. Then she fabricated an outside structure for the students to practice rigging.

Even with tight deadlines, the committee’s hard work paid off. During the 2023 spring semester, McIntyre visited the eastern border first, then she worked her way to all the schools from northeast Ontario to the border of Manitoba. “The North is an untapped resource and no one knows what the Boilermakers are. I do a half-hour presentation for up to 300 students. It was extremely intimidating at first,” McIntyre said.

During the presentation, she talked apprenticeship, pay, pension, travel, welding, rigging and everything that makes Boilermakers best in their field. Then students lined up to strike an arc and weld their name on a plate, which they kept.

Both students and faculty praised McIntyre and the mobile welding unit, with 500 students indicating they wanted to be Boilermakers upon graduation. Construction technology teacher, Martin Heidinga, from Roland Michener Secondary School sent a letter of thanks to the lodge before McIntyre had even finished teaching at his school.

“[McIntyre] gave an amazing talk to our students about welding, the Boilermaker trade, and the pathways to apprenticeship,” Heidinga wrote. “The students were very impressed with Leah and they were pretty much blown away by the opportunities and experiences she presented. As I write, some of them are still outside with her, learning rigging and MIG welding hands-on. We had a great conversation in class after the presentation about apprenticeship, the need for more tradespeople and what a rewarding career the trades is.”

After her first round of school visits during the spring semester of 2023, McIntyre hauled the trailer back home and reworked the entire inside to improve the flow of the trailer before completing another successful round of school visits during the fall semester of 2023.  In total she reached over 1,200 teens in 23 schools with the skilled trades message—sometimes going back to certain schools two and three times. Out of the 1,200 students, 500 older teens indicated they were hoping to indenture with the Boilermakers upon graduation.

Unfortunately, the grant money ran out, so the school visits ended at the conclusion of the fall semester. However, the local is considering their options for what comes next with high school outreach. With L-128 building a new training center, both McIntyre and Quinn hope their work with “Experience the Trades” will help fill it with new indentures.

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to do this job,” McIntyre said.

And it’s evident the schools were grateful as well.

With recruitment and retention being the top priorities for the L-128 Women’s Committee’s first year, they also applied for an additional grant to retain new apprentices. Women’s Committee President Kim Quinn said they were dealing with a lot of apprentices dropping out because they had families and bills, preventing them from attending the three-week required indenture training. The grant allowed L-128 to give each indenture $2,000, which helped to stop apprentices from dropping out. While Quinn and Leah McIntyre were leads on the mobile trailer and apprentice payments, they’re quick to credit the entire Women’s Committee leadership, which also includes Gen Ellis, Christine Hahn and Nicole Lavoie, for their success.