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Carpenters’ executive brought ‘law and order’ to training in trade

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Governments and training regulations may have changed over time, just like the faces that go through the carpenters’ training centre annually, but helping people start a new chapter in their lives never got old for carpenters’ union apprenticeship training executive Eddie Thornton.
Eddie Thornton
Eddie Thornton

Whether it is an at-risk youth picking up a hammer for the first time or a new carpenter apprentice, for Eddie Thornton, carpenters’ union apprenticeship training executive, one piece of advice always rings true.

“One of the best things I was ever told is that when you learn a trade, you will always have it — no one can take it from you,” Thornton recalls.

Thornton has been executive director of Carpenters’ Local Union 27 Joint Apprenticeship and Training Trust Fund Inc. for the last 13 years and is stepping down in early March. The carpenters union’ has organized a tribute dinner in his honour for March 10.

Governments and training regulations may have changed over time, just like the faces that go through the carpenters’ training centre annually, but helping people start a new chapter in their lives never got old for Thornton.

“It’s gratifying to see young kids come in and five years later see them with a journeyperson ticket, earning full wages...getting a nice home. Later on, they come in with their children or families...it’s been a good run,” says Thornton.

That run started for Thornton when he left Ireland to come to Canada in 1967, first stopping in Edmonton and then landing in Toronto. Some of his earliest concrete forming project work was on bridges for Highways 427 and 401. By 1996 Thornton joined the carpenters union working in an industry and labour relations capacity.

Ucal Powell, president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario, says the union hired a headhunter in 1998 to look for an executive director for its proposed training centre.

“After our head hunter met with Eddie, he turned to us and said, ‘Why did you guys hire me for? You have the guy you need right here with you,’” says Powell.

“Eddie has a unique quality and ability to build relationships from governments to school boards. He has the ability to look at a program and say ‘this will work or won’t’. Eddie will be sorely missed.”

Powell and Mike Yorke, president of carpenters Local 27, both say that the relationship the training centre has with its apprentices is much closer now and “night and day” thanks to Thornton’s work.

“Eddie has brought law and order to training,” adds Paul Richer, manager, counterparty risk and labour relations at PCL.

“Under his direction, staffing of the centre, from the office to the floor, turned into a very professional educational institution.”

Thornton was instrumental in helping get school boards focused on presenting a career in the trades as an option for students. The carpenters’ union now enjoys agreements with school boards in Durham, York and Toronto.

“We have not done a good sales job to convince parents, schoolteachers and guidance counsellors about the advantages of a career in the trades. Though I have seen some change in the mindset of parents,” Thornton said. “The big problem is that there is a general mindset out there that if you are not highly intelligent you can become a tradesperson. “That’s simply wrong.”

The CHOICE Pre-apprenticeship Program for Youths at Risk, a Toronto-based program that offers students a chance to learn carpentry on the job at properties operated by Toronto Community Housing Corporation, has been a prime example of what makes apprenticeship so rewarding for Thornton.

by Vince Versace

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