A STEP to Construction education

By Sean Delaney

The STEP to Construction program started 15 years ago with one student and one company, Monarch Corporation. The concept is to see high school students – qualifying students need to be over 16 years old– placed with a builder on a high rise or low rise construction project. The student spends one to two weeks with every single trade on that site. They start with management for a couple of weeks then labour, carpenters, plumbers, tile setters and so on. The idea is that the student gets a chance to explore all aspects of trades through a single placement.

The acronym itself spells it out, with STEP standing for, Specialized Trades Exploration Program.

The idea came from Elvy Moro, Central Co-op Teacher for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), not being able to place a student who wanted to be a bricklayer.

“I was the one trying to place the student. I couldn’t find a company that would take the students as a co-op student,” he said. “Then I was chatting with a vice president of Monarch. He knew the (staff) shortage that was coming and said, why don’t you place the student with me? And I’ll give him one to two weeks with every trade on the site. At that point, the light bulb went on for me.”

The program is a tremendous opportunity for students to learn, Moro explained. To be able to try so many different trades. And from that opportunity with Monarch, the program began growing.

“We ran one class with 22 students from across the City of Toronto, up until last year,” Moro said. “This last year, the program went central with the TDSB. We’re now putting through 88 students per year, with a total of 32 builders affiliated with the program.”

Moro believes that navigating the trades isn’t an easy thing for educators to do. Most educators have university backgrounds, he said, and struggle to understand the “trades” world.

“Trades for many is an area they’re just not familiar with. In the elementary panel, as well as the secondary panel, it just hasn’t been the easiest thing for a teacher to do. There are programs like the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program which exists at the high school level. It’s your last four credits and you can pursue a specific trade. But you won’t get a variety of sampling like you will in this.”

A student who enjoys being in the outdoors, he said, doing something hands-on, construction can appeal to them but in school they don’t get that exposure, that taste. A simple shop class isn’t going to give them the experience they will get on a site.

In a recent survey he saw that interviewed 500 trades individuals to find out what it is about their job that means something to them, money came down to the third item, Moro said. Job satisfaction was number one. It is getting up early in the morning, being able to drop their tools and head home, not having to bring work home with them. And the ability to enjoy continuous learning was also high. The Trades are offering them a business that is continually changing and continuously challenging.

If students are interested in the program, Moro said the best thing for them to do is reach out to the guidance counsellor at the school they attend. “All of the high schools in the TDSB are aware of the program, and they can reach us through guidance or co-op departments,” he said.

He also thanked his associate Ian Da Silva who co-manages the STEP program.