They might not have realized it at the time, but when the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) took on the mandate (1998) to provide training and other labour force development services for First Nations people, they set a progressive precedent. Since that time there have been numerous organizations, programs and initiatives that have been put into place to help Aboriginal workers achieve mainstream success. One of those initiatives is a recently announced two-year pilot program that will see NorQuest College in Edmonton and Bow Valley College in Calgary host new Alberta Aboriginal Construction Career Centres (AACCC) on their main campuses. The two centres will deliver job coaching, counselling and employment referrals to hundreds of applicants, with a goal of placing more than 300 Aboriginal workers in construction-related jobs during the next two years. Non-Aboriginal clients may also register for the program.
“We are utilizing the successful model established by SIIT,” explained Ruby Littlechild, M.Ed., the Manager of the Alberta Aboriginal Construction Career Centre at NorQuest College. “The Centre is here to help Aboriginal workers gain skills and find work in the construction industry, while at the same time enabling businesses throughout the province access to skilled workers that can help their companies grow.”
Dr. Jodi L. Abbott, President & CEO of NorQuest College said that the “purpose of the program is to contribute to existing community resources that are targeting successful employment outcomes in the construction industry.”
The falling oil prices are having, and for the foreseeable future will continue to have an impact on Alberta’s economic growth, but other sectors continue to thrive. The Alberta government is taking the initiative by contributing, via the partnership between Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education and the two colleges, one million dollars in funding for the new program. An additional $750,000 will come from industry and business organizations. The colleges are also contributing another $525,000, bringing the total contributions to nearly $2.3 million.
“This program,” said Premier Jim Prentice, upon making the announcement, “is the result of our partners identifying and acting on an opportunity that will have an impact on generations to come. In an industry that is critical to the growth of our province, these career centres are opening doors of opportunity for Aboriginal people and answering the industry’s need for skilled workers.”
In a press conference, the premier noted that there is “a stark difference” in the educational opportunities experienced by non-Aboriginal citizens and those experienced by Indigenous Albertans, noting that it is one of these things “that concerns me most as premier.” He said the career centre initiative “ensures that there are meaningful opportunities for First Nation and Aboriginal Albertans to get the skills training, to get the job placements, and to be an equal part of that economy.”
“I am very pleased with the comments by the premier and that his government followed through by ensuring that this important initiative, the AACCC, has the funds and support it needs to succeed,” noted Littlechild. “Construction remains very busy and it looks like that trend will continue throughout the rest of this year. Just look at the construction activity here in Edmonton alone; there is a lot of opportunity across the province and this is an ideal time for Aboriginal Albertans to take up the challenge, better their lives and create a positive future for themselves and their families. I’m very excited about this program and the excellent opportunity it presents when it comes to putting our men and women to work.”
NorQuest has established partnerships with employers and existing community resources that will help provide employment services and supports for potential workers, with the goal of successful employment outcomes.
“A Career Coach will work with clients to identify any specific challenges,” explained Littlechild, “and to ensure that the client prepares for and meets safety-training requirements. The safety training currently available includes, among other things, Construction Training Safety System (CSTS), Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), Confined Space, H2S Alive (Hydrogen Sulphide training and awareness), Driver Training and training as a Flag Person.”
Other training includes such things as resume writing, interviewing skills, oral communication, computer use, working with others and reading text. When a client is placed, a follow-up support system will continue to help ensure the success of the participant.
“Our Career Coaches will help prospective construction workers develop a personalized career map so they can be prepared to meet the challenges that come with realizing goals,” explained Littlechild. “For instance, if a client wants to pursue a trade in one of the two dozen or more fields available in the construction industry, we can link him or her to existing Aboriginal trades initiatives and apprenticeship training centres. We also connect to employers who are recruiting employees pursuing construction-related careers.”
Littlechild said that the “AACCC at NorQuest is a new facility that has already begun to connect with Aboriginal job seekers who are seeking employment in the construction industry. We are also connecting with and establishing partnerships with prospective employers and utilizing existing community resources that will help to provide the employment services and supports needed to put people to work. We already have several companies on board as partners including WorleyParsons, JV Driver, and Northern Gateway, and we will be connecting with many more in the coming weeks. If you have a construction company and are looking for qualified workers with a will to succeed and goals to fulfill, call me – it’s just that simple. If you are an able-bodied man or woman seeking to pursue a career, check out the construction industry, it’s one of the busiest and biggest sectors in the province. Opportunity awaits; take the first step by contacting us for more information.”
But though this is a great news story, it isn’t all a bed of roses; there are challenges to meet and obstacles to overcome.
“Yes, there are those,” agreed Littlechild. “The hardest thing is overcoming the stereotyping and the marginalization that has oppressed Aboriginal Canadians for far too long; we need to change those myths, introduce reality. The fact is that Aboriginal people are not lazy, nor are they tardy or foolhardy. Aboriginal workers are like any others; train them correctly, treat them properly, pay them fairly – and you’ll have an employee for life.
“Unemployment in Aboriginal communities is the highest in Canada; in my community alone there is an 80 percent unemployment rate. My biggest goal is to put Aboriginal people to work; to give them an opportunity to succeed, to help them realize that if you want something badly enough you have to go out and earn it. I know that all it takes to succeed is the will to win, the determination to prove to yourself that you can set a goal and achieve it. Believe in yourself and contact us at the Alberta Aboriginal Construction Careers Centre at NorQuest College.”
A former employee with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA), Ruby Littlechild has created and operated mentoring and outreach programs and is committed to the encouragement of higher education, and the importance of role modelling and mentoring for First Nations people. Earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alberta and completing her Masters in Education Degree from Gonzaga University in 2012, Ruby LIttlechild is currently working on her Masters in Business Administration.
For more information about AACCC or to learn more about this unique opportunity to become involved in a construction-related career, contact Ruby Littlechild at 780-644-5907 or send an email to: [email protected]
by John Copley