Twelve students from bands throughout B.C. and across Western Canada recently completed the first level of a unique collaborative apprenticeship program designed to support Aboriginal learners looking to advance their careers in the construction sector.
In March 2015, Okanagan College launched a new Construction Craft Worker two-level apprenticeship program. Last November, the College created an intake tailored specifically for Aboriginal students.
“The College is committed to working with local bands, First Nations, and Métis across our region to create access and offer new training opportunities to meet the need for skilled workers among their members,” says Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton.
“This course was launched to help Indigenous students broaden their experience and gain the jobsite skills that employers are looking for,” says Hamilton. “We collaborated closely with the local bands and worked with the students to identify what kind of added support would help them be successful.”
Most of the students in the class are from the Westbank First Nation (WFN) and Adams Lake Indian Band (ALIB), with a few from bands and communities outside the region.
“Aboriginal students who complete the Construction Craft Worker program are opening a door to jobs that support their families and communities,” says Advanced Education Minister Andrew Wilkinson. “Workers are needed in the Okanagan to fill the skills gap in sectors such as construction, and Aboriginal workers from this program are fulfilling that need.”
In addition to the WFN and ALIB, the College partnered with agencies throughout the province to break down barriers for students. The Aboriginal Community Based Training Partnerships (ACBTP) Program provided tuition and books, tools, lunches, safety gear and transportation. CIBC provided motel accommodation and living support for out-of-town students.
The bands, the Aboriginal Skills, Employment and Training Services (ASETS) and the Okanagan Training and Development Council (OTDC) provided meal allowances; OTDC also sponsored the apprentices.
“This type of training is so beneficial for our young people and our community as a whole,” said Adams Lake Indian Band Chief Robin Billy, who spoke at the class’s completion ceremony in West Kelowna on Feb. 19. “We need workers who are well trained and have the skills necessary to build our houses, schools, roads, and other vital infrastructure.”
For Jay Darwin Charleyboy, a member of the Ulkatcho First Nation, completing Level 1 of the program achieved two goals. It brought him one step closer to his dream of becoming a Red Seal-certified tradesperson. It also gave the single father of three a chance to demonstrate to his daughters the importance of lifelong learning.
“One of the reasons I enrolled was to show my children that we should always strive to better ourselves in life,” says Charleyboy, who moved from the community near Williams Lake to the Okanagan. “I plan to continue on to Level 2 of the program, complete my apprenticeship, and keep building a better life for myself and my daughters.”
Charleyboy said that the College’s respect toward Aboriginal culture was evident in the class.
“Being able to train with other Aboriginal students, in an all-Aboriginal setting, was a great benefit. We held smudge ceremonies and there was an Aboriginal Classroom Mentor to assist us. The way the program was structured really brought us together as a group.”
The program’s coordinator, Sara Cousins, also re-iterated the benefit of having an Aboriginal mentor on hand to work with the students.
“An important part of the success of this program was the Aboriginal Classroom Mentor, Chezzeray Alphonse, who was with the students every day providing academic, personal and cultural support,” says Cousins.
Alphonse is from Tl’etinqox, also near Williams Lake, and recently completed fourth year carpentry apprenticeship at Okanagan College.
“Being a peer mentor is a great experience and to be able to give back to the college in any way is a great privilege,” says Alphonse.
Construction Craft Workers play an important role on every job site in the province, from set-up to clean up. They install utility piping, place concrete, construct roads, perform underground work, and assist skilled tradespeople such as Carpenters, Bricklayers, Cement Finishers, and Heady Equipment Operators.
The B.C. government has projected there will be call for nearly 12,000 construction trade workers by 2018. In the Okanagan, it is expected that the residential and commercial construction and road building sectors and related occupations will require 7,149 new skilled tradespeople.
More information about the Construction Craft Worker program is available at www.okanagan.bc.ca/trades.