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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

TOP OF THE TRADES

School fills shortage in niche trade

By Lisa Fattori
Special to The Toronto Sun


The Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Trade School in Concord is grooming a new generation of skilled tradespeople. Since 1990, the school has helped to alleviate the shortage of skilled people in this specialized trade by training a homegrown supply of workers.

"In the past, we depended on skilled people coming into the country," says Robert Sanelli, executive director of the school, as well as the Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Association of Canada (TTMAC) and the Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Guild of Ontario (TTMGO). "The school was created to get more people interested in the trade and to train more apprentices for the industry."


As a not-for-profit organization, the Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Trade School is open to both union and non-union members. The school is a collaborative effort by the TTMGO, the Brick and Allied Craft Union of Canada, and the federal government.

Two, nine-week programs teach students beginner and intermediate skills in laying tile, marble and terrazzo, which is a polished surface of concrete and marble chips. Course instruction covers many areas, including restoring existing surfaces and construction techniques and procedures.

An important component of this trade school is the valuable hands-on training students receive through four years of apprenticeship placements. To achieve journeyman status, students complete course work as well as apprenticeship training for a combined total of 5,600 hours.

The apprenticeship portion of the program requires union membership. Students have access to benefits and they have the opportunity to earn while they learn.

"The hourly wages are very good," Sanelli says. "In the first year, an apprentice makes 50% of a journeyman's wages. For their last 1,400 hours, students earn 90% of those wages."

The terrazzo, tile and marble profession can be physically demanding, but there is also a creative element to the work. Upon becoming journeymen, workers can go on to become estimators, supervisors, designers or entrepreneurs.

The trade is also well suited to women. Jocelyn Monteith, a 33 year-old mother of two, is a first-year apprentice who has completed her first nine-week course program at the school. After being downsized out of her job as a travel agent last March, Monteith went searching for a new career.

"A career assessment revealed that my skills and interests were in the arts," Monteith says. "I've always been interested in tiles, so I did some research and discovered this school."

At five-foot-six, and of average weight and build, Monteith says that she can manage the physical demands of the job.

"As a travel agent, I sat at a desk all day, but I do have the strength for this job," she says. "I am only one of two women in the whole union, but construction is opening up more for women."

The Terrazzo, Tile and Marble Trade School can accommodate about 20 to 30 students a year. As journeymen, these workers have the potential to earn more than $60,000 a year. Given the current demand for specialized tradespeople, students can look forward to a rewarding career, with many job opportunities.

"The shortage of skilled workers changes depending on the market," Sanelli says. "In the last three years, the construction industry has been very busy, and this trend is expected to continue."

(Lisa Fattori (rosswords@rogers.com) is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)



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