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Skilled trades proved to be life-changing for boilermakers apprentice

Trades workers and trainers celebrated by Workforce Planning Sudbury & Manitoulin

Jenna Shambrook isn’t exaggerating when she says Tomorrow’s Trades completely changed her life.

The program provides students with training in a variety of skilled trades, along with practical work experience and mentorship, in an effort to attract more people to the industrial sectors.

After completing the program last year, Shambrook is well on her way to a successful career as a boilermaker — a marked change from where she was in life this time last year.

“About a year ago… I was driving a van that wasn’t mine; I was choosing between paying for groceries and paying for my bills,” said Shambrook, during a recent event celebrating employers in Sudbury.

“Now I’m a second-year apprentice, I just brought my mom on a trip, fully paid, to Cuba, I have a reliable vehicle, and I’m even starting to think about things like buying a house, which a year ago wasn’t even in my brain.”

Shambrook credits much of her success to her mentor, Nicki Lavoie, a 20-year veteran boilermaker who was recruited to the program by its coordinator, Ryan Forigo.

Jumping into the program “with both feet, right from the start,” Lavoie offered up training space, hands-on workshops, and apprenticeship opportunities without hesitation to participants like Shambrook, Forigo said.

Armed with a “heart of gold,” Lavoie employed a down-to-earth style of mentorship that “sparked genuine curiosity in all participants about apprenticeships and careers in the trades,” Forigo said.

“[Lavoie] used her professionalism and wealth of experience to open the minds of youth and role model the lifestyle and commitment of a professional tradesperson, even continuing this mission after the program,” he said.

That’s why, along with nine other recipients, Lavoie is a 2023 recipient of a Stellar Award.

Conferred by the Workforce Planning for Sudbury & Manitoulin, the awards recognize entrepreneurs and businesses that work closely with local training and education institutes to offer students apprenticeships, training, and mentorship opportunities to prepare them for the workplace.

“These are the [employers] that are helping those in school, trying to develop their career pathway and what they’re interested in learning around the workforce,” said Reggie Caverson, executive director for Workforce Planning for Sudbury & Manitoulin.

A lack of workplace experience can hold students back from furthering their careers, which is why it’s so important to connect them with employers through apprenticeships, placements, mentorships, and job shadowing, she noted.

Students learn the ins and outs of a job, such as working in a warehouse, ordering inventory, operating a cash register, or customer service, Caverson said.

But they also learn soft skills like how to mingle with coworkers, the importance of showing up to work on time, and dressing appropriately for the workplace.

“Until you have that experience, you don’t understand what it’s like to be in a workplace,” Caverson said. “And so every employer in our city, we’re hoping, could take on students or apprentices.”

Employers hesitant about opening their business to students cite everything from a lack of time to being unfamiliar with the process to a sense that the education system should be doing the training, Caverson said.

But as the need for workers grows, Caverson believes every employer can play a part in building up the workforce.

“We’re really trying to reach out to all these employers that if you can, mentor,” she said. “If you can, help, even if it’s job shadowing or mentorship or a placement, to give young people an experience in the workplace.”

Jenna Shambrook is a perfect example of what opportunity can do.

Calling her experience with Tomorrow’s Trades “incredible,” the young apprentice offered her gratitude to those on hand who are making space for future generations of workers to learn and grow.

“Please keep doing what you’re doing, because here in the North and here in Sudbury, that’s where we need things like this,” she said.

“That’s where people like me need to make the connections and find the people and find the ways into these careers so they can change their life the same way mine was changed.”

A full list of Stellar Award recipients and their nominating educational institute follows: