By Chris Wescott – RogersPlace.com
EDMONTON, AB — Saud Siddiqui will be the first to tell you that he “fell off the tracks” in his life. But he’ll also be the first to tell you, with pride, that he’s not only back on the tracks but on the right ones.
“I hit a rough patch before. Then I got out of that rough patch,” Siddiqui said.
Siddiqui is one of several hires by PCL Construction who went through the Boyle Street Community Services’ Water Wings Program. The program offers help with literacy and employment readiness for those who are homeless or without jobs. For those facing the realities of unemployment, Water Wings helps improve reading and writing skills, prepare resumes, assist with job searches and preparing for job interviews.
“In a 10-month period, we saw 1,925 students that came through our doors for different things like upgrading their resumes, doing some job searches, getting interview practices, providing safety tickets for them. They’ve come in for a variety of things. Of that number, 260 came back to us and have reported that they have in fact found jobs,” said Joe Pillay, who manages the Water Wings employment readiness program.
“We’ve visited the program, we’ve been down there to Boyle Street Community Services and it’s such a fantastic program providing pre-employment training for lots of different people,” said Natalie Minckler, the executive director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation, which has funded the Water Wings program for several years.
“They helped me out so much because they started me out straight from scratch,” Siddiqui said. “I didn’t even have a resume on me. They helped me out in building a resume.”
Siddiqui, along with other graduates of the Water Wings program, went from being unemployed to working construction on Edmonton’s biggest development project in years – Rogers Place.
“Now that Rogers Place is in full-tilt construction mode, it’s fantastic because it’s providing these people, who are really wanting to work and willing to work, with employment opportunities,” Minckler said. “The Oilers Foundation is all about building healthy communities, and if we can provide opportunities and some training for people to get full-time jobs then their families will be better off. So we saw that as a real opportunity.”
This partnership between PCL and Water Wings, involving Rogers Place, has been in the making for some time.
“When originally the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group were discussing the concept of building a new arena downtown, one of the ideas that was on the table was about community benefits,” City of Edmonton’s Branch Manager of Community and Recreation Facilities Rob Smyth said. “As that conversation got a little traction and city council and Katz Group began to get on the same page with the financing of the new arena, then the community benefits piece was very much an important part of the conversation.”
Smyth said a major focus of the City and Katz Group was to find a way to help inner city residents and those most in need of a job.
“It’s inspiring to see that the high-level visionaries realized people getting jobs and they’re great jobs. It’s very gratifying,” Smyth said.
PCL has so far hired 10 workers from the Water Wings program.
“It’s a great program, it shows their commitment to becoming employable,” PCL Workforce Manager Kent Dietrich said. “They’re coming to their work every day, they’re coming to their training and preparing to enter the workforce.”
Dietrich says all of those Water Wings graduates have come in and been consummate professionals.
“We’re pleasantly surprised with the commitment that they’ve brought and the work ethic they have brought to our projects. They’ve been reliable, steady performers and valuable members of our team,” Dietrich said. “For many of them, it’s a stepping stone. They started out as labourers and in the New Year they are looking to start an apprenticeship and getting into a trade. It’s been a win-win for everybody, us and them.”
Not only has this been a foot in the door for these newly employed workers, it has also been a path to future success. Being a part of an “iconic” project like Rogers Place is a stepping stone to more work.
“There’s going to be a lot of potential once this job is done for moving into other projects around the city, around the province or around the nation,” Smyth said.
Siddiqui is the perfect example of how PCL and Boyle Street Community Services have partnered to become a launching pad for these individuals who are looking to turn their lives around. Siddiqui began as a labourer, but is now a safety rep overseeing 100 PCL employees.
“There are ups and downs for everybody in life,” he said.
This is certainly one of those ups.