Agency hitching its wagon to construction boom

Embers employment service is opening a Fraser Valley office to help meet worker demand in region

Embers CEO Marcia Nozick is hoping her organization can tap into Surrey’s construction boom |  Submitted

One of Vancouver’s most prominent non-profit staffing agencies is hoping to capitalize on Surrey’s record-breaking growth in the construction industry.

The Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (Embers) is scheduled to open its first Surrey office this week. The employment agency is known primarily for its work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but a growing need in Surrey has led it south of the Fraser River. Embers founder and chief executive officer Marcia Nozick said the building boom has created a perfect opportunity.

“Right now we have an active worker list of about 50 people that we’re already sending onto Surrey construction sites,” Nozick said. “So we just thought, ‘You know, this makes a lot of sense to open a second office here.’ Surrey is growing really fast and we’re growing really fast.”

Last year Surrey broke ground on $1.488 billion worth of construction, the highest total since 2007. Permits rose across the board for single-family homes, townhomes, apartments and commercial, while industrial land permits nearly doubled in number. Construction activity in 2016 is on similar pace, and could exceed last year’s numbers.

In March of this year the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board posted its highest sales total since its inception back in 1921.

Embers is hoping to build a list of 50-plus workers who can be sent to construction sites on a daily basis. Right now the organization has agreements already inked with three companies –Wesgroup Real Estate, ITC Construction Group and Centreville Contruction.

Embers takes workers from a variety of backgrounds including recovery programs and prisons, as well as new immigrants and people with disabilities. Nozick said Embers has also had a recent surge in people coming from Alberta looking for work due to the lack of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

Nozick said workers are paid by Embers for a period of time, and if the company wants to keep them on after, that can be negotiated into the deal.

“Your typical labour company is a day-labour company and they don’t treat their workers with a lot of respect,” she said. “We pay our workers more, we invest in them, we give them training to move up the career ladder and our interest is getting them connected full-time.”

Embers will be partnering with the Phoenix Society in Surrey, a drug and alcohol treatment centre. Phoenix’s founder and executive director, Michael Wilson, said the idea is to create a linear loop from recovery to gainful employment.

“By working together, we can strengthen our integrated services approach,” Wilson said. “We know that people facing barriers can become successful in leading productive, fulfilling lives

and contribute fully to the social, economic and cultural life of the community.”

Greg Thomas, chair of the Surrey Board of Trade, said Embers’ move into Surrey has a twofold benefit.

“In a fast-growing, dynamic city like Surrey, organizations such as [Embers] that can work with local employers to define opportunities and tailor skills training to meet market demand are key to helping address skills shortages, while making meaningful change in individual lives and helping to build a sustainable, innovative and smart city of the future.”