With optimism and hope, professional violinist Antonina Bazhan entered a Canadian immigration center to receive guidance for the next era of her life. According to her, she was at the right place, at the right time, to make her transition to Canada one to remember.
Rewind to September 2022, when the war in Ukraine reached heightened tension. Bazhan fled her native country and arrived in Toronto, Ontario, with her family and violin in hand. She had been playing for symphony orchestras all over the world. While moving to different countries and experiencing the world was a dream of hers, relocating under these circumstances was not what she had in mind.
Despite her situation, she took on an optimistic outlook and was determined to move forward. After settling in Toronto and finding a place to stay, next on the list for Bazhan was securing a job.
“When I went to the immigration center in search of a job, they offered basic entry-level positions,” explains Bazhan. “I heard a man, who I later learned to be an instructor with the Carpenters’ Regional Council (CRC), speaking to two men and offering them an opportunity to get into the trades, as it was a position that paid well. I made a joke about wanting to be offered the same opportunity to join the trade community. The next thing I know, I was taking classes with the Carpenters’ Union.”
The College of Carpenters and Allied Trades (CCAT) created a program to help prepare Ukrainian refugees to enter the construction industry by hosting classes of up to 12 people and assisting them in receiving proper certifications to work on a construction site. The courses include Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System, occupational health and safety, working at heights and working in confined spaces training. To date, the initiative has provided opportunities for over 200 Ukrainians.
Following a two-month training period, Bazhan was given the opportunity to work in PCL’s hourly workforce.
PCL is always looking for ways to get involved in local community initiatives and encouraging employees to draw attention to causes they’re passionate about. In this case, former member of the Carpenters’ Union Local 27 and PCL Toronto Superintendent Yuri Hrycyna jumped at the chance to highlight the efforts of the CRC and the CCAT when Mark Russo, Local 27 Coordinator, mentioned Antonina and her story.
“Yuri introduced me to the program and was quick to connect me to Frank and Mark,” explains Clare Francis, PCL Toronto’s workforce manager. “While Antonina didn’t have a lot of experience in the field, aside from her training, Frank raved about her attitude and willingness to learn. It was a deciding factor in bringing her on board as part of our hourly workforce at The Hospital for Sick Children’s Patient Support Centre project.”
“The team I work with is truly incredible. They took me under their wing and have been great mentors to me,” says Bazhan. “From my training, I learned the theory and practical knowledge needed in the industry. Working hands on with the team and learning new techniques and skills from each member helped me understand the work even more and narrow down the approach that works for me. They made me feel comfortable and confident.”
With the construction industry facing a shortage of skilled workers, Francis says it’s important to participate in initiatives, which broaden the market to those who are interested in the industry but may not have the opportunity to get in.
“We were able to help someone in need while bringing in a trade worker who is eager and ready for any challenge into the construction industry,” explains Francis.
Playing violin is Bazhan’s true passion. She continues to find time to practice and perfect her skills. However, construction has been an interesting and fulfilling new experience for her.
“I get to plan and create something out of nothing, and I’m always learning something new. It’s a different and exciting experience for me,” Bazhan says. “While I hope to return to mastering the violin, my time in the construction industry has been a successful journey so far.”