Chris Campbell has been laying down the foundation for youths long before he became the Equity and Diversity Representative of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO) last November, a recognition of the passion that has driven him to educate youngsters on how to build a future in carpentry.
“My new assignment at the [CDCO] is an opportunity to pay it forward to the next generation before I retire,” says Campbell, 52, a skilled carpenter for 30 years and long-time union member.
Aside from teaching the trade at the union’s training facility on Rowntree Dairy Road in Toronto, he visits schools, hosts open houses, and conducts workshops.
“When I go into high schools, [I see] young people trying to make a decision as to whether they should go to college or university or to get into trades,” he notes.
There are several ways to enter a skill trade, he says. Even if you have an academic background, you can still get your foot in the door.
“[Many students] finish college or university, get their diploma or degree, then get in the trade because the rate of pay is good,” Campbell says.
It was his mother who encouraged him to move to Canada after securing a visa, when his schoolboy days of playing rugby at St Andrew Technical High School, in Kingston, Jamaica, ended. He was not daunted by the prospect, as he regularly travelled to Canada to play the sport competitively.
His early twenties, in his new home, saw him navigating a future filled with opportunities. After turning down offers to become an electrician or plumber, Campbell chose to specialise in carpentry.
He believes that the trades provide a clear blueprint for peoples’ lives, especially for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
INCLUSIVE, DIVERSE WORKPLACES
In his role as the first Equity and Diversity Representative, Campbell’s work involves building relationships between the union and diverse groups and encouraging potential workers from black, indigenous and other communities, to join a trade, while providing guidance throughout the apprenticeship process.
“One of the things that inspired me [to join a trade] was an older friend who pointed out that I could do that by qualifying for a certificate in the union when you are a tradesperson,” he recalls. “So, I took the exam from the Ministry of Training Colleges and University of Ontario, then everything just started coming together.”
Since 2003, as a Business Representative of Local 27, he has been committed to recruiting members to the field and dedicates his free time to many community-building organisations, including the Jamaican Canadian Association, Helping Hands Jamaica, and the Toronto Police Services, where he volunteers as an auxiliary officer.
He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Community Benefit Network (TCBN) and other community organisations across the province, which aim to establish equality, inclusion, and diversity in the construction industry.
“Chris Campbell is a champion for community benefits,” says Rosemarie Powell, executive director of TCBN. “As a mentor, he has supported numerous youths in TCBN’s NexGen Builders Mentoring Program to gain access into a career in construction and navigate the complex apprenticeship system.”
“We are privileged to have him join our Board of Directors as Co-Chair representing our labour and construction union member organizations and groups,” she adds.
President of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario Mike Yorke believes Campbell is the ideal fit to expand on their mandate to ensuring the future of the construction industry as an inclusive one.
He says Campbell’s appointment is an opportunity “for CDCO to continue setting a great example for the industry by championing the recruitment and mentorship of the next generation of leaders and trade professionals”.
“[The organisation] will continue to support inclusive and diverse workplaces,” says Yorke, “and as an industry, strengthen its collective commitment to equality, respect and dignity for all.”
For Campbell, the journey has been challenging but rewarding.
Since landing in 1987 and prior to his current career, Campbell worked at Spence Bakery in the heart of Little Jamaica on Eglington Avenue West, baking banana bread, and in a factory.
“I did that for a bit. It was minimum wage, but it helped to buy winter clothes, shoes and the grocery because you’re new to the country,” he recalls.
One of his biggest jobs was as a supervisor at the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant.
“I was the first black supervisor in that position. And that was amazing,” says the father of five, who has been married for more than 20 years to Sandrine, a nurse.
In his new capacity, one of his duties is to check on construction sites to make sure there is a balanced and a visual representation of inclusivity. He also has responsibility for coordinating and facilitating equity diversity related issues, as well as community benefits agreements in the province of Ontario.
Measuring up now in not only a lucrative career, his performance in the industry, and his work in the community, has garnered him substantial recognition. He recently received the 2021 EFCCC Martin Luther King Award, one of the first 2021 recipients to receive the Martin Luther King 3D Bronze Sculpture award.
Looking back over the years, Campbell feels he has levelled up to his vision.
“I was driven to achieve and wanted to help people,” he says.