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With strong demand for construction trades workers across the province and a healthy residential construction market in the region, Okanagan College is offering up a second intake of a popular program designed to help Aboriginal students build jobsite skills, gain apprenticeship training and get on the fast track to employment.
In March 2015, the College delivered the new Red Seal Construction Craft Worker apprenticeship program. Last November, the College worked with the province to develop an intake customized specifically for those Aboriginal students who might benefit from cultural, financial and academic support alongside the apprenticeship training. Twelve First Nation and Metis students, aged 20-56, completed the program and many of them are now working full-time in construction in the Okanagan and Shuswap regions and in Fort McMurray.
Okanagan College, in partnership with BC Hydro, will offer a new intake of the program, Construction Craft Worker Aboriginal Bridging (CCWAB) from September 12 – December 16, 2016. Delivered at Westbank First Nation (WFN) and the College’s Kelowna campus, this hands-on program will cover a variety of topics, from trades math to carpentry skills to workforce training certifications. The Construction Craft Worker program is designed to benefit students with limited construction experience or those looking to refresh or enhance their skills. The program is tuition-free and includes work boots, bus passes, group study sessions, cultural activities, volunteer work experience and job search skills to remove potential barriers and support success.
“Working with, and learning from, the Indigenous community is one of the key directions in Okanagan College’s new strategic plan,” says Jim Hamilton, President of Okanagan College. “This course is an example of ongoing collaboration with our local bands and First Nation communities, employers and the province to provide training that is responsive to the needs of industry and highly supportive for our indigenous learners.”
The B.C. 2025 Labour Market Outlook predicts there will be about 123,000 job openings in trades, transportation and related occupations in the province over the next decade.
Building on the success of the first in-take of the program, the College, WFN, and BC Hydro will offer a number of additional supports for students—both in the classroom and on the jobsite—to promote their success in the program. Students enrolling in the course this September will once again receive one-on-one training and support from a dedicated Aboriginal peer mentor.
“Mentorship is an important element of the program,” explains Hamilton. “In addition to learning from experienced instructors and employers like BC Hydro, students also get to work beside a recent graduate who can share some insight into how to put their best foot forward in the industry.”
“By understanding the local environment and available resources, we are able to coordinate relevant training and education with local service providers, educators, and our own project teams,” says Laurie Sterritt, BC Hydro Director of Aboriginal Employment and Business Development. “With programs like the CCWAB, together we develop solutions that ensure local Aboriginal people gain the skills and experience needed to join our workforce and/or our contractor network.”
Randy Weatherbee, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band, was among the dozen students who completed Level 1 earlier this year. Shortly after, he landed a job as a construction craft worker with WIBCO construction, a First Nations construction company based in West Kelowna. Weatherbee is now working on the new WFN Youth Centre, only steps away from the WFN Community Centre where he and his fellow students were recognized for completing the program.
“I was looking to change careers and so the program gave me the opportunity to learn a lot and gain some valuable certifications in a short time,” says Weatherbee, who worked in IT for 15 years prior to enrolling. “Many of the other students had some construction experience but it was all new to me. The program is fast-paced and focused on skills that employers want to see on the resume. It helped me get a foot in the door in the industry.”
Jay Charleyboy graduated the program with Weatherbee and now works alongside him at the WFN project site. A member of the Ulkatcho First Nation and a single father of three, Charleyboy says the program has helped him advance his career in the construction industry.
“I’ve been in construction for a long time, but the program was a great way to relearn skills,” says Charleyboy, who after earning his Occupational First Aid Level 2 was hired on as the Construction Safety Officer and First Aid Attendant for the project.
“There’s a ton of hands-on training, from carpentry and joinery to pipelaying,” explains Charleyboy. “The course has helped me get into the industry again, refreshed. I’m excited to keep learning, keep building my career, and keep building a better life for myself and my family.”
More information about the Construction Craft Worker program is available at www.okanagan.bc.ca/trades.