Since his studies in political science and business, John David (J.D.) Alkema ‘97 has grappled with complicated issues like the fairness of wages and workplace safety. The two fields deal extensively with ethical practices in the workplace, and political science was Alkema’s linchpin subject, a keystone where his learning from other disciplines was crystallized. “I walked out of political science exams smarter than I walked in,” he says. “I was able to connect how things all worked together.”
As many Redeemer alumni will tell you, there is often a subject they dislike over the course of a degree, whether English, history, biology or psychology. For Alkema, it was calculus in his final year and semester at Redeemer.
“Math was not something that came easy to me, but Dr. Kevin Vander Meulen invested a lot of time in helping me get through,” Alkema remembers. The day before the class’s final exam, Dr. Vander Meulen worked through the major concepts with Alkema. The next day, after sitting the exam, Alkema wandered by Dr. Vander Meulen’s office. “I wanted to know if I had done well enough to pass,” he says. “He was sitting in his office, and I poked my head in not really expecting him to have turned his mind to the exams, as only two or three hours had passed since I had left the exam room.” But, to Alkema’s great surprise, Dr. Vander Meulen had finished marking the exam. He had graded it immediately. “He smiled at me and told me he graded my exam right away because he knew it was important to me.”
“CLAC is about people being able have greater work satisfaction through better relationships and to do their to work to the best of their God-given ability.”
Alkema passed the class, but experiences like these provided two major ideas that still influence his life and his role at the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) today: the patience Dr. Vander Meulen displayed by helping him prepare for the exam, and the amount Dr. Vander Meulen cared about his situation. This example still impacts Alkema, now a regional director for CLAC at the Mississauga Member Centre.
Alkema and fellow Redeemer alumnus and CLAC employee Colin deRaaf believe that there is a strong Redeemer-CLAC connection that has to do with what is at the heart of the union: decidedly Christian values such as fairness, equity and dignity. When CLAC began in the 1950s, it was a union built on Christian social principles, striving to form work communities not just about the work, but about these communal values. Ultimately, CLAC is about people being able have greater work satisfaction through better relationships and to do their to work to the best of their God-given ability — because the union supports the whole person.
Another synergistic quality between Redeemer and CLAC is the ability for students — or employees — to think strategically. “My work does not have a typical day: it’s full of new and ever-changing challenges,” says Colin deRaaf ‘03, a training director at CLAC. “Redeemer wasn’t a typical program: faculty often subtly challenged the students to live out their calling as Christians to be a light in a broken world.” Today, deRaaf leads a team from CLAC’s new Cambridge Member and Training Centre that manages the construction workforce development program related to training, apprenticeship and jobs on behalf of CLAC in Ontario. This includes the coordination of 8,000 to 10,000 occupational health and safety training certificates per year, working with hundreds of apprentices within the construction industry and connecting construction workers with employers through the CLAC jobs program.
“My work does not have a typical day: it’s full of new and ever-changing challenges. Redeemer wasn’t a typical program: faculty often subtly challenged the students to live out their calling as Christians to be a light in a broken world.”
“I’m constantly looking for new business opportunities and identifying barriers to growth,” says deRaaf. “As the training program is not the core business function of CLAC, my education has helped me to think how my department’s activities should support the overall mission of CLAC and its influence on Canadian labour relations. This has helped the organization gain confidence in my team as we make investment decisions in new programs or services.” While capacity is built through CLAC’s training programs, vulnerable workers are assisted in building the skills and knowledge to access safe work with less difficulty. “We have developed pre-employment programs for refugees, internationally trained construction workers and youth struggling with addictions,” says deRaaf.
Walking alongside those on the margins of society is rewarding work. DeRaaf recalls a specific instance where CLAC applied for and received government funding to assist local youth — who were graduates of an addiction rehabilitation program — in gaining the technical and safety skills necessary to enter the construction workforce. “We developed a full carpentry pre-apprenticeship program where graduates were connected with local employers to apply the skills they learned in the classroom,” he says. “Many students went on to pursue careers in construction and further education related to the program.”
This same program was recognized by Skills Canada – Ontario and deRaaf received a 2016 Klaus Woerner Skilled Trades Award. “This was the moment I felt affirmed in my vocation,” he says. “It continues to provide encouragement to look for other opportunities to assist underrepresented groups in achieving their vocational dreams.” Christian values, echoed throughout the gospel, are a deep part of both Redeemer’s institutional heritage and CLAC’s organizational beginnings. A liberal arts and science education assists in shaping the whole person — to Alkema and deRaaf, this has meant flexibility, adaptability and a holistic worldview.