A first on the West Park construction site

A young man in a hard hat stands in front of a hospital under construction

Interning on the West Park construction site, Nicholas Robb is EllisDon’s first participant from the Toronto District School Board’s STEPS to Construction Program that provides an opportunity for youth to access a career in the trades

Nicholas Robb’s love for construction started at a young age. Growing up in rural Jamaica, he put his hands to good use and built a chicken pen large enough to hold 25 birds in his backyard.

Fast forward to the age of 20, Robb found himself as EllisDon’s first Toronto District School Board student to spend a semester job shadowing various trades last year. And it just so happened he was placed on the West Park construction site.

“The workers welcomed me with open arms,” says Robb. “I learned a lot about different trades. They would explain how to do things like door framing to installing faucets.”

Always having a keen interest in plumbing, his interest shifted to carpentry after spending weeks under the mentorship of EllisDon’s senior project manager and superintendents.

“I like the physical aspect of holding a hammer,” says Robb. “The backbone of building would be carpentry, like the skeleton of a body.”

Taking the first step

With an ambition to make a life for himself, he arrived in Canada in early 2021. With no time to waste, he immediately began working at a factory. He also enrolled himself at Emery Collegiate Institute, an adult high school near Weston and Finch Ave, to complete his grade 11 and 12 English courses so he could graduate from high school.

Observing his interest in construction, Robb’s guidance counsellor suggested he enroll in Specialized Trades Exploration Program (STEP) to Construction, a co-op program that enables Grade 11/12 students to spend a semester on a job site sampling several skilled trades – from electrical to carpentry, drywall to sheet metal work, plumbing, tile-setting, bricklaying, cement finishing and general labour and construction craft work – to see if one sparks their interest.

Running for over 15 years, the Toronto District School Board program also sends the student to George Brown College once a week for a dual credit (college credit + high school credit) in Construction Health and Safety, where they also earn a number of safety certificates to beef up their resumes, free of charge. STEP graduates finish with five high school credits and a college credit.

Robb is the first STEP to Construction participant for EllisDon, who now joins other developers and industry associations in opening career pathways for students interested in construction. And what better place to start than at West Park, the first Ontario hospital to include a community benefits component to its infrastructure project that aims to support historically disadvantaged communities or equity seeking groups into the construction trade.

Hard work does pay off

During his placement at West Park that ended in January 2022, Robb was running on three to four hours of sleep each night. He would spend six-hours at West Park during the day and then off to his factory job for eight hours.

He is hoping his hard work will pay off.

At the time West Park interviewed him for this story in February, he planned on applying to work with Local 27 the following week. We are pleased to report that Local 27 accepted Nicholas Robb as a first-year apprentice.

As for future aspirations, he hopes to own a carpentry and plumbing company.

“I hope one-day there will be an ad for my company running on cable TV,” says Robb.