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This charity is helping youth break into the skilled trades — and fighting homelessness too

April 10, 2023

Posted on: April 10th, 2023. By: Patrick Swadden,, Original Article.

Blue Door’s Construct program provides 8 weeks of training plus life skills

A charity in York Region is hoping to help fill the province’s labour gap by helping youth facing homelessness access the skilled trades.

Blue Door’s eight-week program allows young people facing barriers to employment break into the construction trades through rapid training and ultimately land apprenticeships.

It’s a program that aims to respond to the province’s need for skilled trade workers — and change lives too.

Matt Sullivan was nearly homeless before he joined the charity’s program, called Construct. Sullivan’s wife had completed the program before him and inspired him to sign up.

“They’re willing to go above and beyond to help people,” Sullivan said.

Aside from the training, the program delivers vital services to vulnerable trainees, such as mental health resources, transportation and food support.

“If you didn’t have a car, they offered you a Presto card… they offered you gas cards. In terms of groceries, they would offer a Walmart PC gift card,” Sullivan said.

“They even helped cover some of my rent at one point.”

Sullivan has now joined LiUNA 506, a union representing over 8,000 workers in the residential and industrial, commercial and institutional construction sectors, hopes to work in the hazardous materials sector.

Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite says the program has helped over 200 graduates like Sullivan find work since it began in 2020 and is now expanding from York into both Peel and Durham regions.

“It’s meaningful work,” said Braithwaite. “And guess what? It pays a living wage.”

He says the program helps fight homelessness because it’s had an 80 percent success rate in getting graduates work in trades after they finish the program.

Aside from the skills students learn in woodworking, carpentry and painting, the program teaches trainees life skills such as accountability, punctuality and work etiquette.

Braithwaite says LiUNA 506 partnered with Blue Door to develop the program after the union’s business development manager, Merissa Preston, told them a program like this would almost guarantee work upon completion, given the industry’s need for skilled workers.

Trainees now have the option of attending the LiUNA 506 Training Centre or Humber College for their eight-week stint.

‘We need thousands of new workers’

Mike Yorke, director of public affairs and innovation at the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO), says the trades sector is exciting, but needs people badly.

He says about 13 percent of the construction workforce will retire by 2027.

“We need thousands of new workers and there’s never been a better time for young people to consider the trades as a career path,” said Yorke.

Yorke thinks programs like the one offered by Blue Door are a fantastic way to get young people excited about trades.

“We really need to replenish our workforce, so reaching young people is fundamentally important,” he said.

Meanwhile, Braithwaite says Construct has attracted the attention of both the provincial and federal governments, who are now helping to fund the program.

Ontario has said it wants 1.5 million homes built over the next decade and has been doggedly trying to get young people excited about skilled trades.

Even with the government support, Blue Door is still organizing fundraisers to raise its own money for the program.

Recently, staff took part in a polar bear plunge to raise extra money for some of the supports that trainees receive while completing the program.

Braithwaite says the funds will go toward things like rent and childcare support to help some of the students.

“It gives us the flexibility to do that when we fundraise some our own money.”

Blue Door pulled in $1,700 from the icy dip and is looking to raise $10,000 this year to support Construct.