Trades program for newcomers could help patch gaps in skilled labour workforce

Red River College and the province are launching a pilot program that will help refugees pick up language and construction skills in their new home province — and possibly help patch gaps in Manitoba's skilled-labour work force.

Red River College, province launch pilot project to help refugees settle in Manitoba

Newcomers in Manitoba will have a chance to be trained in trades such as masonry through a new program at Red River College in Winnipeg. (Getty Images)

Red River College and the province are launching a pilot program that will help refugees pick up language and construction skills in their new home province — and possibly help patch gaps in Manitoba's skilled-labour work force.

"This new construction skills program truly embodies a community response to supporting new refugees in Manitoba," reads a statement from Red River College released Tuesday. 

The announcement comes as an influx of refugee claimants from around the world continue to walk across Manitoba's shared border with the U.S. in search of asylum. 

Currently, 19 government-sponsored refugees from countries such as Sudan, Syria and Congo are enrolled in the Pathway Program to Construction Skills, said RRC president and CEO Paul Vogt.

Newcomers enrolled in the program start in the classroom where they learn basic English language skills before heading into work placements in the trades. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Newcomers will get hands-on training in drywalling, masonry and flattop roofing over a four-month period as part of the program, according to a news release from the college. But first, students start in the classroom, where they will learn basic English language skills before getting their hands dirty.

Once they complete training, newcomers will get a month's worth of paid on-the-job, full-time work experience in one of the trades.

Red River College president Paul Vogt said the new program provides an opportunity for newcomers as well as various construction industries who have a need to fill vacant trades positions. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

"They get a connection to the workforce and they may even get a job offer at the end of their work placement," Vogt said.

Ron Hambley, president of the Winnipeg Construction Association, said the partnership provides an opportunity for employers in the trades sector currently dealing with a skilled labour shortage, "while helping build a future for new members of our community."

Need growing

Last year, the province asked the college to develop the trades-based program to help resituate Syrian refugees, said Vogt.

In the intervening months, the need for such a program has only grown as hundreds of asylum seekers have streamed into the province near the border town of Emerson, Man., Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart said in a statement.

The province is committing as much as $225,000 to the RRC program, Wishart added. The funds are part of a previous boost to refugee resettlement services the province announced Feb. 23.

A second round of newcomer students will take part in the college program starting in September. It's that group, Vogt says, that could very well include some of the "refugees that are now in the headlines" for crossing into Manitoba amid frostbite-inducing temperatures this winter.

"This is a good opportunity for Manitoba. If we can make this work ... they're going to be part of our workforce into the future."​


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

With files from CBC's Cameron MacIntosh