REnEW program gives Kelowna participants trades experience

Eleven participants are confident they will gain full-time employment after gaining experience through the REnEW program.

Participants of the REnEW program stand in front of John Howard Society's heritage home on Harvey Avenue. Those involved with the program spent three weeks gaining safety certificates in a classroom setting before spending two weeks completing energy efficient renovations on the 70-year-old heritage home.

Kerri Plumridge is confident she will be able to get a job in the construction industry.

But a month-and-a-half ago, that wasn’t the case.

Plumridge was one of 11 participants who recently took part in the Residential Energy and Efficiency Works (REnEW) program, which is put on by FortisBC, BC Hydro and several other community partners.

The group spent three weeks in a classroom setting, where they were able to earn four essential safety certificates including: First aid, WHMIS, fall prevention and Construction Safety Training Systems. They then spent two weeks completing extensive renovations to John Howard Society’s 70-year-old heritage home on Harvey Avenue.

Plumridge moved to Kelowna last December. She took a golf course maintenance and landscape horticulture course at Okanagan College, but was unable to gain employment afterward.

“People want experience, but I had zero experience,” said Plumridge.

“I learned a lot from it, but it didn’t get me a job.”

Her uncle heard about the REnEW program and passed the information on to her. The next day she went in for an interview and was accepted on the spot.

She said some of those who took part in the five-week program had very little experience, but were able to learn quickly.

“(A few) had a little trouble at first because they didn’t know how to read a tape measure or they’d never held a hammer.

“But you wouldn’t know that today—they excelled like you wouldn’t believe.”

REnEW coordinator Dave Grindlay noted technical experience isn’t the first thing he looked for when accepting applicants.

“It’s more about getting people who actually want to get back to work and want to gain full-time employment,” said Grindlay.

Grindlay and Plumridge agree bonds were made through the project.

“When we all came in, we were all our separate people, we all kind of had our walls up,” said Plumridge.

“As time went by the walls started coming down…we’re all pretty good friends now.”

UK Trades is one of the community sponsors of the REnEW program. The construction company provided workers to help guide and mentor the participants during the two weeks of renovations.

“We normally have up to eight of our guys on the site—so we can virtually do one-on-one work with the (participants),” said Ron Brewer of UK Trades.

Brewer said students got experience replacing windows and digging window wells as all the old single glazed windows were replaced with double glazed, energy efficient windows.

“I think their fuel bills will probably be 50 per cent less than they were,” said Brewer.

Students also replaced insulation, did carpentry work, poured concrete and did some landscaping.

The REnEW project will allow the John Howard Society to keep rent costs low at the heritage home while providing a safe environment for marginalized, low-income individuals and seniors.

As for the participants, two have already gained employment and Grindlay said he will continue to work with the others as they build their resumes and search for a full-time job.

“Sometimes the toughest part of the journey is the job search,” said Grindlay.

“(REnEW) will show they have two weeks of hands-on employment training with the trades…that goes a long way with the employer.”