A few months ago Tyrone Solomon, 24, was scrambling to pay his bills by taking on menial labor jobs through temporary hiring agencies. It was a world of poor-paying jobs with no future.
“I wanted more than just to work and collect a paycheque,” says Solomon.
The tide turned on Solomon’s fortunes when he signed up for a carpentry pre-apprenticeship program offered through Carpenters’ Local 27 in Toronto.
The program, which commenced with six weeks of in-class instruction, followed up with seven weeks on-the-job paid training at the Pan/Parapan Am Games’s Aquatic Centre working for one of the city’s largest scaffolding contractors, Scafom Canada Inc.
Scafom has since taken Solomon on as a first-year carpenter’s apprentice.
It’s a big step forward for Solomon, who with his fiancée Vanessa — an expectant mother, lives with their three-old child Tamir in North York, Ont.
“It is very uplifting for me,” says Solomon, who sees a promising future ahead of him as a carpenter in the union.
Fellow pre-apprentice on the jobsite Giovanni Dipinto, 35, also hit a string of dead-end jobs before turning to the carpentry union’s pre-apprenticeship program. In Alberta, he had completed a chef’s apprenticeship but promising jobs in that field back home in Toronto were rare.
At Scafom, the pair has been helping to build two multi-point suspended scaffolds (60,000 and 20,000 square feet each) over training and competition pools at the Aquatic Centre. Their boss has been pleased with their work.
“It’s going very well,” says Brian Forrester, project group manager, Scafom.
“I have some quality guys on this job so these kids are learning.”
Dipinto says instructors at school told pre-apprentices to expect to do menial tasks on the job but that was not the case at Scafom where both pre-apprentices were assigned responsibility for assisting with the assembly of the “tube and clamp” scaffold.
“We feel like we’re part of the team that is building this,” says Dipinto.
Now a first-year apprentice for Scafom, the 35-year-old sees a bright future in the field.
“It is good skilled work where we have to use our brains and think through things. And, from what I hear scaffolding and formwork have the most work out of all carpentry jobs,” says Dipinto, who with fiancée Katharine hope to marry soon and settle in Toronto.
The pre-apprenticeship program is sponsored by the Carpenters’ union and its affiliated employer groups. Students are in class for six weeks learning the fundamentals of carpentry before they head to jobs for seven weeks of paid training. Students that pass can then sign up for their first year apprenticeship.
Joe Ranieri, apprentice liaison coordinator, Carpenters’ Local Union 27, Joint Apprenticeship & Training Trust Fund Inc., says while a good percentage of pre-apprentices don’t move on to apprenticeship, others like Dipinto and Solomon are sold on the field as a career from their initial experience.
“The pre-apprenticeship program gives students an opportunity to see if they like the work and are cut out for a career in the trade. They come away with some sound fundamentals of carpentry — a good start in the field.”
For Dipinto, Solomon and other pre-apprentices in the program, the chance to help build venues for the 2015 Pan Am Games is a “rare and special opportunity,” says Forrester. “When you’re involved in a construction project of this magnitude and stature, it is always interesting to see the finished product.”
“It’s a legacy project,” adds Solomon.
“When I tell my family where I’m working, they are so proud of me.”
Solomon, who loves to swim, will be paying attention to the 2015 games — especially the aquatic events at the facility he helped build.
Dipinto says work as a pre-apprentice doesn’t get any better than a building as important as the Aquatic Centre.
“As a chef I always promised myself I’d be at the Olympics but I never made it. I guess I get kind of a second chance with Pan Am Games,” says Dipinto.
“I’m very proud of what I’m helping to build.”