Aecon-Golden Mile Joint Venture connecting newcomers to Canada with training, construction jobs

A man at a construction site holds a hardhat.
Syed Jafri, one of the first employees of the Aecon - Golden Mile Joint Venture. (Photo provided by United Way Greater Toronto) 

An electrical engineer by training in his home country of Pakistan, Syed Jafri couldn’t find a stable job when he first arrived in Toronto’s Greater Golden Mile neighbourhood in December 2021. Like so many newcomers facing barriers to employment, he made Uber deliveries on his ebike to get by.

“It was hard. It was wintertime, minus 20 outside. But I did that for three to four months,” he said. “Then I came to know about the Aecon-Golden Mile joint venture (A-GM).”

Designed to bring lasting economic benefits to the residents of the Greater Golden Mile A-GM is one of five programs rolled out by the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative (ILEO), a project by United Way Greater Toronto and BMO Financial Group to support the community.

A-GM brings together Aecon Group Inc., one of Canada’s leading construction companies, and the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity – Golden Mile (CIEO), a not-for-profit organization supported by United Way Greater Toronto, to create a unique community-based construction company. A similar partnership was created about six years ago between Aecon and the Six Nations of the Grand River, an Indigenous community in Brantford, Ont.

Known as Aecon-Six Nations (A6N), the joint venture trains and hires local residents. It has grown into a $30 million company employing more than 80 Indigenous members during peak season for construction jobs across Ontario. With a 51-49 split, the majority of the profits go back to the Six Nations community.

Since Aecon-Golden Mile (A-GM)’s inception in 2022, more than 30 residents have been hired and trained. Syed Jafri, 30, signed on to be a part of the first training cohort in East York and has not looked back.

“When I joined, I had never touched a shovel in my life before,” Jafri said.

A novel approach

Even so, he welcomed the new experience. Following an initial training period, he was offered employment with A-GM as a crew member and soon after, became a foreperson carrying out work throughout the Greater Toronto Area.

One of A-GM’s traffic control work sites in 2023. (Photo provided by A-GM)

The A-GM joint venture is a novel approach. The company, which was founded in 2021, is majority-owned by CIEO (51 per cent), which connects the Greater Golden Mile community to jobs, training, programs, and other social services through partnerships with 10 member organizations and resident outreach. Aecon owns the other 49 per cent and provides the management support, equipment, insurance, and everything required to run a business.

Those seeking to build a career in the construction trade are gaining skills through training and employment with A-GM, and 51 per cent of the profits generated from the projects undertaken will be invested back into the community.

The joint venture has already generated around $2 million in revenue. The Labour Education Centre (LEC), a skills training and employment services centre in Toronto and ILEO partner, is currently A-GM’s main training partner.

LEC’s Golden Mile Trades Training program provides six weeks of free construction training, and the opportunity for an eight-week paid placement with A-GM. Training is directed at residents with no previous experience in construction. Everything from safety rules to traffic control to the use of hand tools is covered in the course.

During the training, participants receive multiple certifications. Once the training and placement are completed, a participant may be hired by A-GM and will work on various projects around the Greater Toronto Area. A-GM is equipped to handle hydrovac excavations, burying service wires, and hard surface restoration such as asphalt and concrete. It also provides traffic control and flagging, as well as other service options.

The goal of A-GM is “to develop a standalone, profitable, well organized, safe company that does various types of work in the GTA,” according to Adrienne Clarke, the joint venture’s project manager.

Providing jobs for residents

Clarke says they are looking for people to join A-GM. It is a physically demanding job requiring working outdoors and under different weather conditions, and “making sure you’re a teammate and you help your fellow team member” is equally important.

“I think the biggest thing for us is that you have to come with a positive attitude,” she said.

Jafri is now the project co-ordinator for A-GM, working alongside Clarke. He points out the feeling of satisfaction he gets from working on different projects.

“I learn a lot. I learn about rules and regulations, about Canadian culture and talking to people,” he said.

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He considers the program a great opportunity to learn new skills and utilize those skills in a practical manner in the field.

“It’s really good to see people being a part of Aecon-Golden Mile,” Jafri said.

He recalled with pride a project from November 2022, when his crew of five successfully completed the installation of fibre optic connections to 320 homes in one month in Richmond Hill. It was done on time, which was no small achievement. The team has worked on 950 homes for five projects overall, and is looking to train and hire 15 people later this spring.

‘Newcomers are just looking for opportunity’

For Clarke, who has been involved since the early stages, a highlight for her has been watching this joint venture progress from an idea to the point it is providing jobs for many people, including newcomers to Canada.

“Newcomers are just looking for opportunity. They’re the hardest working people. They’re trying to prove themselves to everybody else that they deserve a role here and that they can work just as hard as anybody,” she said.

It has been rewarding for Clarke to see people develop and be able to establish themselves in Canada. “Having work coming in and seeing people develop and grow has been a huge accomplishment for us. It’s just exciting to see what next year and the year after that will bring,” she said. “We’re here to grow and learn and develop ourselves.”

Staffed by residents of the Greater Golden Mile, A-GM will be poised to do the work needed when the neighbourhood revitalization takes place in the very near future. With more than 75 proposed buildings along the Golden Mile corridor, A-GM’s hands-on role truly involves building the community from the ground up.

This story was produced as part of a partnership between Centennial College journalism students and United Way Greater Toronto.

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Posted: May 21 2024 9:56 am
Filed under: News