Regional council considers adding Community Benefit Agreement to construction contracts

Regional council is looking for ways to make construction sites more diverse.

Councillors are exploring adding a Community Benefit Agreement to construction contracts, which would require sites to have a percentage of skilled workers from underrepresented groups, including Indigenous people, women, Black Canadians, People of Colour and veterans.

Andrea Davidson is an electrical apprentice and said she's used to being the only woman working on construction sites.

"I can count on two hands how many women I have worked with," she said. "But, my current employers are phenomenal. They are making a big push of hiring women."

Davidson said she hopes other women will pursue careers in skilled trades.

"In elementary schools and high schools, they are not presented as having these professions as options for them," she said. "We want to get the message across that there is a lack of people going into the skilled trades," said Ashley Pszeniczny, the diversity and inclusion manager for Skills Ontario. "We want to increase their awareness that these things are opportunities that are out there and then we talk about the different pathways in order to get into the skill trades."

The motion calling for a Community Benefit Agreement was presented by Coun. Sean Strickland.

"You look at the pandemic unemployment numbers and you see that it's hit women harder than men, it's hit Black and Indigenous and People of Colour harder than more traditional groups," Strickland said. "(We're) looking at creative and innovative ways to diversify the workforce."

Coun. Michael Harris said the intent of the motion is good, but there needs to be more study on how CBAs should be used in the region.

"In Ontario, and I know we have heard this before, CBAs have only been used on a handful of instances, mostly on large multi-billion P3 projects," he said.

Council has agreed to create a committee to investigate what implementing a CBA would look like locally. A report is expected in September.

Harrison Plain, a journeyman carpenter from Sarnia, said an agreement would be beneficial for people working in skilled trades.

"I don't see other First Nations people or people of colour or women in the work that I do," he said. "My experience is that, in the worksites in my area, they have not been very diverse. I generally stand out being a person that is First Nations and a minority."

Plain said it can feel isolating.

"I know the entire worksite is surrounded by friends and family that are First Nations, but have not had the opportunity or haven't been able to step foot in that workforce," he said.

Plain added barriers often include lack of knowledge and advertising for positions in his field. He suggests offering seminars and public information meetings could help spread the word about starting out in the trades.

He also works as a mentor through Skills Ontario.

"Hopefully I was able to connect with one or two students and give them information on how to enter in one of these trades and what the benefits are to enter these trade and that we can, even though it might seem difficult," he said.