From passion project to pioneering a new industry

Community News & Features Feb 8, 2019 at 4:58 pm
IBMA President and CEO Ricky Manrique pointing at the course material on the blackboard

IBMA President and CEO Ricky Manrique pointing at the course material on the blackboard

By Michelle Chermaine Ramos

Like most immigrants, International Building Maintenance Academy (IBMA) President and CEO Ricky Manrique struggled finding employment. Manrique had practiced as a licensed civil engineer specializing in construction in the Philippines for twenty years before he arrived in Canada in 2003. After mailing about 150 applications to different companies for any job he could apply for, nobody replied.

Frustrated, by 2005 Manrique wanted to quit and told his wife on a Friday that if he did not receive a call by that Tuesday, he would fly back to the Philippines. To his surprise, he got a call from Del Management Solutions in response to his application for a building superintendent position and got the job that Monday.

IBMA-logoHowever, he was shocked when they simply handed him the key and had no specific instructions outlining the duties and responsibilities of the job.

He had many questions and was clueless as to what he was supposed to do. Fortunately, he had the knowledge of the complex inner workings of buildings having built several back home. His understanding of plumbing, carpentry, electrical and mechanical components enabled him to handle any situation that arose and prevent problems before they occurred.

Two months later, he asked his property manager if he could train others so that the new hires would know how to do the job since proper training for this profession did not exist back then and the company agreed.

Manrique started training candidates and documenting everything he encountered on the job and in two years, he developed his training system. Teaching in his spare time was his passion and in ten years, he was able to train around 200 Filipinos, many of whom were struggling to find work but eventually found employment with various property management companies in the city who trusted Manrique to supply them with skilled candidates. He trained people for free until 2014, when he received a letter from the government ordering him to stop his program.

Some of the 45 graduates from the 2018 graduation ceremony at Rembrandt Banquet Hall

Some of the 45 graduates from the 2018 graduation ceremony at Rembrandt Banquet Hall

Apparently, a non-Filipino complained about Manrique being racist since all his trainees were Filipinos and although he was teaching out of his own home, the government official thought he was operating in an unregistered training facility and ordered him to stop. Manrique then left that job and worked as the operations manager for Toronto Luxury Suites in downtown Toronto where he was in charge of furnishing and designing interiors.

Despite the move up in his career, he became lonely since teaching was his passion. He eventually re-read the letter and tackled the part that said that he had to register a handyman college or school if he wanted to continue his program.

Here, he explains the arduous process of turning his passion project into a pioneering academy.

MC: Were there such colleges?

RM: None. I went to the private career college system managed by the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities and wrote down everything for the subjects. There were many guidelines so I had to hire a lawyer to handle the documents. I was told that it could take ten years for a college or university to be accredited. However, we were accredited in two years.

MC: How did that happen?

Ricky Manrique with wife Emma Manrique

Ricky Manrique with wife Emma Manrique

RM: When the inspector from the ministry came here to check the facility, the line of questioning came from the curriculum and I am the author. Even if you reverse it, I can answer everything unlike other colleges and universities who only buy their curriculum.

MC: Before that, what were the requirements you had to meet?

RM: We followed a big thick book. The subjects had to have a weight, number of hours, description explaining what the students will gain from every subject. It was a very big task for the lawyer and I worked beside him to explain all the technical words. It took us two years.

MC: When did you submit the application?

RM: In 2015. It went back and forth with many questions. Finally on March 24, 2017, the program was approved by the (Ontario) Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. Consequently, the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities came in to approve the facility.

MC: Is this something you have to renew every few years?

RM: You have to submit an annual report. Part of the annual submission is the audit report. We also have the CRA in dealing with the employees’ salaries, GST and corporate taxes. There are various compliances to deal with aside from the two ministries. Creating a program is hard because someone has to write it. And to have it approved, we needed a program expert, not myself, but I had to find someone who is.

MC: So they needed a second opinion from another expert?

Part of the classroom where students practice soldering. (4 Photos provided by M. Ramos)

Part of the classroom where students practice soldering. (4 Photos provided by M. Ramos)

RM: Yes, someone I referred as I was the author of the program. Because that guy had to confirm that the book is correct. So, since the ministry asked me for a program expert, that means they had no one.

MC: Before IBMA existed, how were building superintendents trained or selected back then?

RM: That’s why it was unfair for the tenants and for the owner of the condominium to buy a unit only for the person hired to manage it to have no idea how to do their job. Imagine this is your building. If you are the owner of the building, you are selling condo units. Who builds the building? You would hire a contractor with several types of engineers, all experts in their own fields. Around six different types of engineers, consultants, architects, everything. When that building is finished, after these experts leave, who will take over? Our industry has been long ignored for decades because engineering degrees came into existence in the 60s. The one who will take over them is one guy who should know all about their expertise and that’s us. I will send a maintenance person there and he will try to interpret everything they made there for the owner’s interest to protect his property. That’s our job. So for every building they make, they need us.

MC: So what were the hiring requirements before IBMA existed?

RM: It was chaos because people were just placed and there were many problems and errors.

MC: Back in 2005, how did Del Management Solutions choose candidates for you to train?

RM: The company didn’t choose who I trained. I did. If I met someone, I would ask, “Hey kabayan! Gusto mong mag super? Train kita!” That’s why they were mostly Filipinos.

MC: Did any of them have a background in engineering or related fields?

RM: So far, I have trained a doctor and pastor who knew nothing about buildings but after finishing the program, they can see the difference and know what to look for and how to react in every scenario. Before, people’s perception of a building superintendent was that of a janitor or cleaner. I’m changing that. Now this is building maintenance and engineering. That person should know the engineering aspect of the structure to be able to call in help or a contractor knowing what is wrong. The electromechanical component of the building is so important and there are many laws and by-laws or codes like plumbing, electrical, fire and building codes.

MC: So superintendents are not necessarily allowed to handle certain repairs? Also, are there any regulations regarding licensing in this industry?

RM: A super has limitations. For example, under the electrical code, only licensed master electricians can do the rewiring or even touch the wire. My curriculum also involves replacing fixtures, so since the ministry approved it, now we can change the outlets, switch and light fixtures.

MC: If it takes six licensed specialist engineers to build a building, and the academy claims that it will take one person to maintain everything those experts built, and those experts studied for years before being licensed, how do you compress all the knowledge needed for the job into this program in a shorter span of time?

RM: That’s why when I wrote the curriculum, it was designed to be able to answer all those questions.

MC: Is this mainly from your experience as a civil engineer?

RM: Yes, and as a maintenance person in Toronto for about 10 years before I wrote the curriculum so I can say it’s true, I can do it because I have done all that. The primary objective of this program is to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone in the building.

MC: Have you encountered untrained working superintendents who had to enrol in your school?

RM: I met a Filipino who had been a superintendent for just a few days who took the job because he had nowhere to live. He had no knowledge or relevant background so he was stressed due to so many problems. There were no hiring qualifications back then. That’s why now all the management companies are asking me to provide them with qualified staff. Every mistake the superintendent makes costs dollars. A mistake can cost millions or can cost a life. Unfortunately, until now, approximately 80 to 90% of superintendents nationwide do not have this training.

MC: How did you come up with those statistics?

RM: Because only a few have gone through our system since there were no schools like this before.

MC: How many students have gone through your program?

RM: Including all the students who took the certificate or diploma course and those I trained for free before then, roughly five hundred since 2005.

MC: Since all your professors are required to be able to teach all 29 subjects in the program, how were their qualifications determined?

RM: Their credentials are approved by the ministry as per their requirements and guidelines. For example, the first requirement is that they should have four years work experience in Canada as building superintendents. Secondly, they must also be a member of the League of Filipino-Canadian Building Superintendents for four years, and third, the president of this school should like this person. (Laughs)

MC: Are all of the league’s members Filipinos? Or are you open to accepting non-Filipinos?

RM: We have non-Filipino members since we changed it to include Filipinos and Canadians so any Canadian citizens can join.

MC: What is the league’s purpose?

RM: The organization with 200 plus active members emphasizes continuous learning by hosting seminars on a variety of topics for the members’ professional and personal development. Seminars include lectures on subjects such as updates on condominium law, workplace safety, human rights , labour code and immigration law, as well as evolving technology in HVAC and boiler heating systems, security, and others taught by lawyers, experts and university professors.

MC: Seeing the rise in condominium developments, with you supplying the demand for qualified superintendents, where do you see this going in terms of what it can do for the Filipino community?

RM: Filipinos are usually handymen. When many arrive here, if they don’t know about other opportunities, they usually go anywhere and take any jobs to survive like in factories. But with us, we are teaching them a career. I have some students from 2010 who started from zero and now own two homes and after seven years, the couple’s combined income is around $120,000.

MC: Do you see this replacing caregiving as a ticket to immigrating here?

RM: Many caregivers came from other professional careers but worked as caregivers just to come here because that was in demand in that time. Now, I am creating another demand for another industry through this building maintenance program. And I’m planning to open schools in other countries so when you move, you can move laterally unlike in other professions where you have to start from the bottom when you come to Canada. I want to let the Filipino community know that there are other options for you in Canada.

IBMA graduates are now managing residential and commercial buildings, hotels, hospitals, campuses such as Ryerson University and Centennial College and facilities such as the Pan Am Sports Centre. Due to the overwhelming demand for trained candidates growing as building developments continue to increase, Manrique is preparing to open campuses in North York, Mississauga and Ottawa later this year.

Additionally, the current intensive 80-hour program will eventually be expanded into a two-year program in the future.