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Students sling steel out of school into workforce

Straight out of the ironworking program in Anjou, the young men from Kahnawake have almost all found work on the Champlain Bridge, in New York and elsewhere. (Daniel J. Rowe,  The Eastern Door)

A year ago, The Eastern Door stopped by the Centre de Formation des Metiers de l’Acier in Anjou just past Highway 40 and checked in on around 20 young men learning the trade men and women in Kahnawake have become masters at for years: ironwork.

The course wrapped August 30, and, with another course coming in the new year, TED caught up with a few of the 17 graduates applying their trade.

Aaron Rice, along with fellow graduate Cam Horn, found work almost immediately after finishing the program, signing on with one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the country.

“We graduated and within 10 days they called us to come in for a meeting on the Champlain, and we started 13 days after we graduated,” said Rice.

Other graduates soon joined the duo on the bridge, while others found gigs in Boston and New York.

“There’s only around three to five guys that are not working, and everyone else got on,” said Rice.

Hogan Gilbert did not graduate with his mates in August as an opportunity arose in the spring.

“I got a letter from the school in New York saying they were expecting a lot more work in the coming years, and were accepting applicants who scored high on the tests,” said Gilbert, who aced the test and was invited to the New York for a physical and other tests. “I passed the tests and they said, ‘welcome to local 40 and 361 apprentice school.’”

He returned to Montreal to finish the majority of the course, and will complete the final two days he missed in February to get his certificate.

“I didn’t want New York to think I wasn’t taking the opportunity seriously,” he said. “They wanted me to start immediately and I kept pushing back the date of when I’d be heading there.”

Gilbert received a letter from Quebec this week informing him he passed everything, and would just need to complete the two days of training as a formality.

Rice, at 32 years old, is somewhat older than some of his fellow graduates, and spoke about entering the program intent on following through with his commitment.

“At the beginning I just told myself that I was going to go through with it,” said the father of one along with two-step children. “I took a step back for a while and really thought about what I was going to do, and decided that this ironworking program, graduating and all that, was a very big confidence booster for myself.”

The 120-hour program requires a serious commitment and those thinking of signing up for the one that starts in June 2018 should know something: non-serious workers need not apply.

“The hours were the hardest thing,” Rice said. “Losing family time and not being there through everything. That was probably one of the bigger hurdles to get over, just missing time with the family and then having to work on the weekends.”

In the end, however, it was all worth it.

“Now it paid off. It pays extremely well, even for a first-year apprentice it’s up there, and it only grows every year,” said Rice.

Those interested in the program can contact Tewatohnhi’saktha for more information. The First Nations Regional Adult Education Centre is also available for those needing to complete high school courses to qualify for next year’s course.

The only thing Rice would change is entering the trade sooner, and had some advice for those considering taking the course.

“You just got to stay the course,” he said. “That’s what the guys got to remember for the future class. It gets really slow, really boring, really the same ole, same ole, but man does it pay off in the end. I stand at work sometimes and just take everything in. I gotta pinch myself sometimes.”

In addition, applicants should remember that there are many people working to make this course a reality, and that the commitment should not be made lightly.

“If you’re not sure, don’t bother,” said Rice. “There are a lot of people that help you out going through the process, so just make sure you know what you’re doing and that you want to do it.”

danielr@easterndoor.com
Daniel J. Rowe
Daniel J. Rowe is an award-winning reporter and photographer originally from B.C. In addition to journalism, he produces and edits a Shakespeare-inspired blog and podcast called the Bard Brawl. His writing has also appeared in the Montreal Gazette, Canadian Press and U.S. Lacrosse magazine. His facial hair rotates with the season, and he’s recently discovered the genius of wearing a cowboy hat.
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