Pre-Apprenticeship Program Described as ‘a Phenomenal Opportunity’

Derek Welna and Christine Anderson in front of Pre-Apprenticeship sign
Derek Welna and Christine Anderson

Tony Masciotra, the president of Con-Tact Masonry, showed up at a St. Clair College pre-apprenticeship job fair with plans to hire four graduates on the spot.

As a board member of the Canadian Masonry Contractors Association and the long-time owner of a firm that does work across Ontario, he has seen first-hand how the shortage of skilled trade workers has affected businesses like his.

“I think our parents, who were bricklayers and tradesmen, always thought, ‘I don’t want my child doing this. I’d rather they become a lawyer or a doctor.’ So I think we’ve killed off a generation. And now, lo and behold, tradesmen are making more than certain lawyers,” Masciotra said. “We have to replace that missing generation.”

Kirstyn Fox, the Pre-Apprentice Administrator at the college’s School of Skilled Trades, said 15 students in the brick and stone mason program just completed 17 weeks of studies, both hands-on and in the classroom, and will now proceed with a work placement of 12 weeks. At the end of that they graduate and will have their Level One apprenticeship training completed.

“It’s really a phenomenal opportunity,” Fox said. “And their placement is a paid placement as well.”

The pre-apprentice program is geared to people who lack the skills and experience to get sponsored in a trade, Fox said. “We give them extra hours in the classroom, extra hours in the shop and it just prepares them to grow their skill and be prepared for industry.”

Masciotra said the 150 masons and labourers he employs across Ontario are working on rewarding projects, from restoration work at historical buildings to new home builds. “And monetarily they do great.”

Wages for a starting apprentice begin at over $20/hour and if they receive their Red Seal full certification over four years, they could earn well over $100,000 a year, he said.

“I like to tell a lot of guidance counsellors in the high schools, ‘We don’t want the people who can’t graduate. We want your best, because in all likelihood, in a few years, they’ll be making more money than you,’” Masciotra said.

“We want the best. We pay well. It’s a high-tech industry right now, so we’re looking for the best.”

Derek Welna, 33, completed the program and was hired by Masciotra during the job fair. He’d been in the tile and flooring industry for 12 years and while the money was okay, he wanted to accomplish something more. “I wanted to get my papers,” he said.

Welna said he was so impressed with the program, he’s going to recommend it to a relative.

“It taught you the necessary steps from beginning to end. So whether you had experience or not, everybody has been making it through the course. It was a well-planned course.”

Christine Anderson, 33, signed up for the program after being laid off from a factory job.

“I never thought I would actually lay brick, but I love being active and I love the outdoors, so it’s a perfect fit.”

Anderson, one of two women in the program, was also hired by Con-Tact at the job fair and she is confident this will be the start of a long and meaningful career. “I’m going straight to the top,” she said, referring to her goal of eventually obtaining her Red Seal in the trade. “This is a very good trade to be in. We’re in high demand and there’s a lot of work.”

Fox said the ministry covers the cost of tuition, textbooks and safety equipment in the pre-apprenticeship program. Participants are solely responsible for their own cost of living expenses and transportation.

The Brick and Stone Mason program was one of three pre-apprenticeship programs St. Clair College offered this year. Job fairs for the other two, CNC Precision Metal Cutting and Truck and Coach Technician, will be held over the next few weeks.

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Con-Tact Masonry president Tony Masciotra interviews a pre-apprenticeship student
Con-Tact Masonry president Tony Masciotra interviews a pre-apprenticeship student
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