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Union helps build new hope

JUST seven months ago, the future for Chris Davies was looking very bleak. The 18-year-old was unemployed, had no contact with his family and roamed the streets of Sydney's inner-city Redfern Brad Norington in The Australian of March 04, 2008.

He had spent time at Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre at St Marys, in Sydney's west, after getting on the wrong side of the law. "I was thieving, I was into drugs and alcohol, I was hanging out with the wrong crowd," he says. But then his life underwent a remarkable transformation.

In September, Mr Davies was chosen for an eight-week intensive training course that introduced him to the possibility of a job in the building industry. Under a program run by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union in conjunction with the indigenous community, he attended TAFE to learn about carpentry, plastering, bricklaying, electrical work, forklift driving and workplace safety.

Others in his group of 20 quit the course. But Mr Davies persisted and obtained an apprenticeship as a formworker with Trazmet, working on a stadium refurbishment at Redfern Park.

After five years in which 200 young unemployed Aborigines have taken part in the CFMEU Koori Job Ready Program, the union's NSW secretary Andrew Ferguson is appealing for the Rudd Government to fund the scheme nationally as an act of "practical reconciliation".

Mr Ferguson yesterday appealed to Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, urging her to follow last month's official apology to the Stolen Generations by using the scheme as a model for young unemployed indigenous people across the nation.

In a letter to Ms Gillard, Mr Ferguson said the Sydney-based scheme could easily go national to provide benefits for indigenous communities and the economy.

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard, who is also the Minister for Employment, Education and Workplace Relations, said the proposal would be considered.

Mr Davies is one of five young formerly unemployed Aborigines provided with apprenticeships at the Redfern Park site under an agreement with the City of Sydney Council. Head building company Hansen Yuncken and sub-contractors on the site were required to sign up successful graduates from the training program as part of their contracts.

Alex Walker, a 24-year-old with two children, had been unemployed since leaving school until he started with the training program. He is now a second-year apprentice sheet metal worker, employed with Croydon Industries in Sydney's inner west.

"The program changed my life," he said.,25197,23315204-5006784,00.html