Innovative trades academy gives leg up to...
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Oct 25, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Innovative trades academy gives leg up to aboriginal youth

Canada’s aboriginal population is the youngest and fastest growing in the country, a “made-in-Canada” solution to skills gaps


It was the summer of 2011, and Ian Harper was combing Six Nations reserve near Brantford in search of the next generation of welders.

As the head of an innovative new training program to get more aboriginal youth into the trades, Harper had resources and expertise at his disposal. But he lacked one vital ingredient.

“I actually paid a guy with a pickup truck to go around dropping off flyers in mailboxes on the rez, because we couldn’t fill up the program,” he recalls.

Now, welding union United Association local 67’s Technical Trades Academy boasts kids who bike 20 kilometres from the reserve to make class. It has young people who show up for a day of welding despite having just come off the night shift. It is celebrating 16 podium finishes in nation-wide skills competitions over the past three years.

And for many students, it has proved a life-changing experience.

“I was working security and smoke shops — nothing paying out. You’re not learning anything, you’re not pushing yourself to be better,” says student Mike Mt. Pleasant, a 31-year-old dad from Six Nations.

But welding?

“I love it.”

“The aboriginal population is the youngest and fastest growing, so it’s a made-in-Canada solution to these sorts of skills shortages.” adds Sara Monture, the executive director of Aboriginal Apprenticeship Board of Ontario. “There is a population that is ready to step in.”

AABO is one of many aboriginal employment organizations partnered with the academy. Aside from its concerted effort to reach out to indigenous communities, the program offers more than $12,000 worth of free instruction to pre-apprenticeship students of all backgrounds with a strong emphasis on securing them decent jobs.

“Right off the bat, our guarantee is 60 per cent (job placement) in this program,” says Harper, who is the academy’s director of training.

In its drive to be inclusive, the initiative also started Ontario’s first pre-apprenticeship training program for women. This year, around half of its participants are aboriginal. And last year while 60 per cent were unemployed when they signed up, 85 per cent left with a job in their field.

Those odds are now a draw for young people across the province. The academy, which is funded through union dues, the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities, and manufacturing partnerships, will train over 500 full- and part-time tradespeople in 2015.

“They’re giving us a chance that no one else would give us,” says Jasmine Thibert, 24, who is Métis and originally from North Bay.

“We’re ambassadors in the trade for aboriginal people,” adds Craig Nadjiwon from Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation in the Bruce Peninsula, who successfully completed the program and now works for construction giant Aecon.

Dispelling some bosses’ prejudices remains a challenge, Harper says. But the academy’s reputation is now attracting employers from far outside the local’s 60-kilometres catchment area.

“When I first started I couldn’t get a kid of aboriginal origin on a job anywhere other than local 67. Now Sudbury will take kids of this program.”

Toronto Star

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