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TRAINING & EDUCATION - BladeRunners program places at-risk youth into construction jobs

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by Peter Caulfield

BladeRunners is a province-wide employment program in British Columbia that facilitates the entry of at-risk youth between 15 and 30 years of age into the labour force.
TRAINING & EDUCATION - BladeRunners program places at-risk youth into construction jobs

Director Tom Galway said BladeRunners is different from similar programs because it focuses on the provincial construction industry.

"In 2013, there was a total of approximately 1,300 BladeRunners participants in the province," Galway said.

"Of that number, about 65-70 per cent were working in construction. In Vancouver, all of the 121 participants were involved in construction."

Galway said there is another important distinction between BladeRunners and other employment programs.

"BladeRunners is a job placement program, not a job training program," he said.

"We give our participants, most of whom are Aboriginal, certified health and safety training and teach them life skills and job readiness skills that help them build self-esteem and confidence. The job training itself takes place on the worksite."

BladeRunners was created in 1994 during the construction of General Motors Place in downtown Vancouver.

The arena is now known as Rogers Arena.

The purpose of the program was to match the labour requirements of the construction industry with the job needs of disadvantaged street youth living in the nearby downtown east side.

"We placed 25 young people on the construction site that year," Galway said.

Because many of the youth taking part in the program at that time were having problems outside of their work hours, BladeRunners co-ordinators developed a system of 24/7 support for its participants.

In 2000, the BladeRunners program was taken over by the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS), which today administers the program in most of the province.

ACCESS outsources delivery of the BladeRunners program to 21 local agencies throughout B.C.

Galway said BladeRunners focused on the construction industry because of the high wages it pays

"Because construction pays more than the minimum wage, BladeRunners participants earn enough to be able to take care of themselves," he said.

That emphasis on construction changed somewhat in 2009.

"By then, construction activity in B.C. was down, so we began to look at other economic sectors, such as film, the culinary industry and building service, for employment opportunities for youth," Galway said.

"Fortunately construction has picked up again and there is plenty of work there for BladeRunners participants.

"Quite a few of  them have continued on and gone into construction trade apprenticeships."

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