The Redwood HVAC Staffing
Snapshot View of Practice
The Redwood HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) Staffing is a tuition-free program that supports women and 2-spirit, non-binary, and trans people who have been affected by gender-based violence (GBV) to pursue training and a career in the HVAC industry. This program assists survivors to graduate with the skills, industry knowledge, and opportunities needed to secure stable employment and a living wage.
Name of Shelter
Type of Shelter
What is The Redwood HVAC Staffing
The Redwood HVAC Staffing program grew out of Redwood’s Women on the Move (WOTM) program in 2018. WOTM was designed to support survivors affected by GBV in developing leadership opportunities. It included bringing a consultant to guide them in business planning and feasibility, consulting with unions and training schools, and developing initial project plans. The Redwood’s strategic priorities included building financial pathways and independence for survivors of GBV. The HVAC Staffing program has developed and changed format, with the current version in operation since 2021. The HVAC industry was a perfect fit for their participants because it is always in demand and offered stability, decent pay, and flexible hours. The training duration and hours are also suitable for clients who manage multiple responsibilities, including childcare. Many employers and unions are also trying to change the male-dominated industry to become a more diverse and inclusive space. Currently, the program offers spaces for 6-10 individuals in each Fall and Winter cohort.
How does the program work
The training to become a gas technician has been offered at George Brown College, which has a Woman Transitioning into Trades and Education Program. The college recognizes the importance of financial independence and supports accessible options like online classes and referral pathways to employment. This allows The Redwood to recruit and offer this program to more individuals across the GTA. The program has also had collaborations with skilled trades training schools and unions that specialize in training for HVAC gas technicians. The program is funded by the government of Canada’s Union Training and Innovation Program. The grocery gift cards are sponsored by Scotia Rise, Scotia Bank. The program also has private donors who provide funding.
The Redwood runs several information sessions throughout the year, usually in advance of the program’s fall (October) and winter (February) start dates. Individuals are then invited to submit an application that includes their basic information, eligibility criteria, and interest in the program. After reviewing the applications, screened applicants are invited for an interview. In the interview, the program team’s goal is to understand their commitment and whether they are a good fit. The team is very transparent about the program expectations such as attendance requirements (70-80% to pass the George Brown College course) and the comprehensive and lengthy examination process. Applicants who are not selected after the interview, mainly in consideration of the significant commitment required, are usually referred to other programs that are more suitable for their schedule. The Redwood’s Community Services and Outreach department has built strong relationships with partner agencies in the Violence Against Women sector and provides supportive referrals to these programs.
To be eligible, all participants must be able to work and study in Canada, attend the training, and be able to meet the course attendance requirements. There are no minimum educational qualification requirements. George Brown College reserves 6 to 10 seats for The Redwood each term. The classes take place twice a week, online in the evening, ensuring that participants who are single mothers and have part-time or full-time jobs can attend the classes. No one in the class (neither the instructor nor students) knows the participants or their background, or that they are referred from The Redwood. The training component is five to six months depending on when participants schedule their practical in-person training.
There are also pre-employment programs, which are offered during the transitional period when participants prepare to write the G3 exam. Participants receive tutoring and mentoring services from past HVAC Staffing graduates to help them pass the licensing exam. Participants often pursue advanced G2 licences and receive additional employment readiness training in WHMIS, ozone depletion, health and safety, and computer workplace essentials, among other training, throughout the program.
What is the impact of this program
The Redwood HVAC Staffing program supports survivors to gain either part-time or full-time employment in the HVAC sector. The program also supports those who decide to try something new after the program, becoming an introduction and a pathway to get into a sustainable and meaningful area of work in the skilled trades. It is an opportunity for participants to provide for, and support, their families. Many graduated students have pursued and secured higher G-2 technician licences as well. Some of the participants from earlier cohorts are still part of the program and support with tutoring and mentoring newer participants, creating a community support system. In 2022, The Redwood organized a graduation ceremony that brought together former and new cohorts of participants, who shared the positive effects of building this community of professionals and support together.
Challenges in Implementing
- One of the biggest challenges is that the sustainability of the program is dependent on funding. While The Redwood is grateful for the funds and donations they have received, the project’s long-term existence depends on the availability of funds. The opportunities to have wrap-around supports like childcare, grocery gift cards, and transportation coverage are crucial for participants to be able to succeed and meet the program goals, but this can be a challenge to offer for nonprofits who must consistently seek and re-apply for funding to offer programs for their clients. The Redwood is grateful for the current 5-year commitment from the Government of Canada’s Union Training and Innovation Program. They hope to receive core funding in the future to continue their HVAC Staffing program.
- Systemic barriers around housing, childcare expenses, and personal safety challenges that clients encounter also make it challenging for participants to meet the 80% attendance requirement expected by their training partners. The Redwood offers referrals, counselling, and other case management support services to ensure participants are supported in their journey and to remove barriers to participation and engagement in the program.
Tips for those who wish to do something similar
- Host a focused group discussion with clients or those you are seeking to serve to identify barriers and priorities to design your program.
- Conduct labour market research on the industry you choose. Some considerations could be the duration of the training, salary, or employment opportunities after the training, whether the industry is male-dominated if there is a willingness to accept change and other factors that may pose a barrier to the clients you serve. These considerations will ensure whether it fits the needs of participants.
- Always make sure that there is feedback, consultation, involvement, and engagement with participants throughout the program. This could look like forming an advisory committee, doing regular surveys, or making sure there's just a regular feedback channel so that the program is informed by the trends participants are experiencing.