Last month, Treaty Six Aboriginal Skills, Employment and Training Strategy (ASETS) agreement holders and partners hosted “the largest job fair in Alberta organized by First Nations for First Nations.”
The Treaty Six ASETS Employment Partnerships and Job Fair, held at the Ramada Inn on Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton on October 28-29, 2014, was a unique event that brought Treaty Six First Nations members together to meet with business, industry and educational institutions to explore career, employment and educational opportunities. The event also provided a venue for business and industry to network with First Nations leaders and entrepreneurs.
The event got underway with an opening song performed by the Amiskwaciy Academy Drummers, led by Elder Francis Whiskeyjack and an opening prayer by Saddle Lake Elder Adrian Redcrow. An array of guest speakers took to the podium to talk about the many opportunities in Alberta today for young people seeking to improve their lives. Most talked about alternative career paths and encouraged job seekers to explore the hundreds of different industries operating in Alberta, each with opportunities for career-minded individuals. Exploring the trades and learning what it takes to become a journeyman welder, electrician, plumber, iron worker, auto mechanic, heavy duty mechanic and more was urged by almost every speaker, including Naresh Bhardwaj, Alberta’s Associate Minister of Persons with Disabilities (Reporting to the Minister of Human Services).
“I always encouraged my trades students to work hard and finish their apprenticeships because if you have a trade you will never be unemployed,” he assured.
Now serving his second term as an Alberta MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, Mr. Bhardwaj began his career as a tradesman who earned his Journeyman Ticket as an auto mechanic in 1983, then went on to teach auto mechanics, mathematics and physical education for 18 years in communities that included Pincher Creek, Red Deer, Whitecourt, Calgary and Edmonton. He also graduated from the University of Alberta with a double major.
“I really enjoy attending this type of job fair; there’s no better way to get things done than by participating and working together” to achieve common goals. “Together we are helping people develop their job skills, find employment and advance in their careers. This job fair is a great way to connect Albertans to rewarding careers that are in demand.”
Louis Bull Tribe Chief Rusty Threefingers agreed, calling the 2014 Employment Partnership and Job Fair “an important venue that allows us to mix and meet with industry and government and create opportunities that will give our youth the chance to learn and grow and participate in the work being done by industry in Alberta today.”
“We are very pleased to see so many of our youth come out to see what is available in the workplace,” noted event spokesperson, Charlene Bruno, the Executive Director of the Six Independent Alberta First Nations Society of Maskwacis (SIAFNS). “First Nations ASETS offices work diligently and collectively to develop effective partnerships that address the demand driven needs of the labour market. This event was another opportunity for business and industry to explore the development of meaningful employment and industry partnerships with First Nations within our territory. I am happy to note that many businesses and industries took advantage of that opportunity.”
Shannon Houle, a Saddle Lake First Nation Council Member and an SIAFNS Board Member, introduced herself as an unscheduled speaker, noting that though unprepared when asked to address the crowd, “I found a way because that’s just the way life works. We do what we have to do – just as those youth that are here today to learn about employment opportunities, will have to meet the challenges that are placed before them.”
She talked about the challenges and struggles she had growing up as a teenage mother “who hadn’t yet finished high school.” Noting that she “comes from a “family that understands the importance of earning a living” and realizing “that lots of people in this world have challenges to overcome,” Houle told the gathering that “perseverance is imperative and that no matter what you have to do to make progress, you do it. I had goals and I wanted to follow those goals so I worked as a maid, cleaning up after rich people and took on small jobs that came available.”
She also had an interest in wood working that came in handy, when, as an adult she moved back home and found herself “hired by my nation as a cabinet maker.”
Houle said that turning her hobby into a job that paid the bills was a rewarding experience that she said “proves that if you have interests, if you have talents, if you have dreams and goals, you can make them come true. You just have to continue to work at it and as you do, you will move forward.”
During her short oration Houle also spoke about overcoming negativity, something she had to do earlier in life when people made comments such as: ‘you’re a teenage mother – your life is over.’
“It is not over, believe me,” she assured. “If you want to succeed, you are in the right place today. You have the opportunity to ask questions and to learn more about the trades and other careers you are interested in pursuing. Coming to these trade shows is important, but it is just as important for you to let people know what you can do and what you’d like to do. You have to ask questions; you have to be fearless. If you sit back you may never know what kind of opportunities you missed out on – and they are everywhere, especially here where employers are gathered to let you know what they are looking for and what the labour force needs.”
The Job Fair’s breakaway sessions included the topics of resume writing, job interview skills and entrepreneurship. Dozens of exhibitors representing government, business, industry and post-secondary institutions had the opportunity to meet with and talk to both first time job seekers and qualified workers. Among those holding mini-workshops and information sessions were Trade Winds to Success, Alberta Works, Oteenow, Service Canada, Primco Dene, Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation, Maskwacis Employment Centre and the Northeast Alberta Apprenticeship Initiative.
Numerous guest speakers took to the podium throughout the event and an evening gala held at the Oasis Centre heard from keynote speaker, Kelly J. Lendsay, the President and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council. Lendsay is an internationally recognized social entrepreneur for workplace inclusion, diversity and partnership building.
Statistics Canada recently reported Canada’s unemployment rate is at the lowest it’s been in six years, with a large number of jobs created in Alberta. The Alberta economy is booming and needs a workforce. First Nations youth represent the fastest growing demographic in Canada, but they are underrepresented in the workforce.
“Government, business and industry groups that recognize the opportunity our young workforce represents and are willing to work with First Nations as partners, will benefit in the long-term,” said Tony Alexis, Chief of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation.
His words were echoed by those of Minister Bhardwaj, who, as an active Edmonton community member for more than 36 years, has served on many associations, establishing Youth Link, a youth employment training program, and coaching soccer at the community league level and for Juventus U-18.
“This job fair,” he assured, “is particularly important (especially) as Alberta continues to struggle with meeting the demands of its employers. The most recent statistic indicates that we have 300 people moving into Alberta every single day; despite that we are forecasting that by 2023 we will have a shortage of about 96,000 workers. Premier Prentice recently noted that the Alberta workforce and its labour force strategy must respond to market demands to ensure that we have the workers we need. Our First Nation communities are underrepresented in our workforce. Events like this are crucial to our province’s success. They can help Alberta’s employers who are struggling to find workers with the right skills. More than 118,000 First Nations people, along with our Aboriginal youth, play a critical role in continuing our work force strategy. That’s why we are also moving forward with our Employment First Strategy, which is crucial when it comes to employing people with disabilities.”
“In light of a shrinking labour force and labour market demand,” added Chief Alexis, “the First Nations population, particularly the youth, represent an untapped talent pool that can help Canadian and Alberta business and industry meet their future business goals. Business and industry can assist First Nations by creating an environment, which contributes to the growth and development of education, training, and job creation opportunities. The time is now to ensure First Nations youth have access to the same quality of education and training as any youth in Canada. Alberta must recognize, along with the rest of Canada, that our economy requires an educated and prepared First Nations population. Alberta businesses and industry depend on it, and our youth deserve it.”
Event sponsors included Osum Oil Sands Corp., Shell Canada, Trade Winds to Success, Primco Dene LP, Clean Harbors, NAIT Corporate International Training, Encana Services Company Ltd., Devon Canada Corp., Fort McKay Group of Companies LP, and All Weather Windows. Government and municipal partners were Service Canada, Government of Alberta – Alberta Jobs Skills Training and Labour, and the City of Edmonton.
The Treaty Six ASETS Steering Committee is comprised of the SIAFNS, Yellowhead Tribal Development Foundation, Tribal Chiefs Employment and Training Services Association and urban ASETS agreement holder, Oteenow Employment and Training Society. The ASETS boards and committees are comprised of First Nations leadership and professionals, representing 17 Treaty Six (Alberta) First Nations.
by John Copley