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Northern College takes to the road to deliver trades training

Mobile trailers provide Indigenous residents in remote communities with an introduction to the basics
Northern College and Keepers of the Circle have teamed up to bring trades training to Indigenous students in their home communities.

Indigenous residents in Northern Ontario may be ready to train in the skilled trades, but the remote nature of their communities can present barriers to education.

So, to address those challenges, new mobile trades training trailers will bring education to them.

With funding from the Skills Development Fund, Timmins-based Northern College and Keepers of the Circle, a non-profit organization that provides programming to Indigenous communities in northeastern Ontario, have launched a mobile trades program designed to train students in a variety of trades.

In the more remote communities, students don’t always have access to campus, and moving away from family to attend school can be an added stressor, said Christine Heavens, Northern College’s executive director of community, business development, and employment services.

“We also know that provincially and federally, there’s a huge demand and need for tradespeople,” she said.

“So the question is, how do we get people interested in the trades and how do we do that but then still support them in the community?”

Four mobile trades training units have been built and equipped with machinery and tools that will train students in carpentry and construction, plumbing, electrical, and drywalling, among other skills. Heavens said there’s even been talk of offering automotive or small engine repair instruction in the future.

The mobile units can be trailered to a community where an instructor guides participants through the basics of that trade and the students apply their newfound knowledge to a project in the community.

“We could have multiple trailers at one location, or we could have trailers at different locations doing different work, depending on what the demand and the need was,” Heavens said.

Programming is developed in consultation with the community and customized around their needs. Courses are intense — full days, five days a week, of learning, practice and experience, Heavens said — and run an average of 12 to 16 weeks.

In Taykwa Tagamou, a Cree community in the Cochrane District, the students learned carpentry basics so they could perform renovations to Elders’ homes, including building decks and patios, stairways, and a ramp, as well as installing siding and railings. They also built a gazebo for the community playground.

Further north in Wahstaywin, students constructed cabins as part of a land-based healing camp, designed to offer struggling members time away from the community to reflect and put traditional knowledge and practices to work to help with healing.

All of the programming is imbued with cultural teachings, Heavens noted.

“Always, it’s about building capacity and competency and confidence, and also building in the cultural aspect, so embedding it in a really respectful way,” she said.

“This is where the community plays a key role where the students are closely connected to Elders and knowledge keepers and are considering the impact on the land and reflecting on themselves as well.”

Where possible, community members with a background in a trade will serve as instructors for the program. If one isn’t available, Northern will provide an instructor to lead the course.

In some cases, participants can earn a postsecondary credit, which will then count toward their college diploma, should they choose to pursue their education beyond the short course.

For example, students might review the same occupational health and safety principles that they would learn in a trades or technology course offered by Northern, thereby earning them a credit.

“So we’re looking at these pathways for success and then helping the student be set up for success in the future as well,” she said.

Once trained, students may choose to stay in the community, applying their skills to local projects.

But the experience can also whet their appetite for more training, and should a student choose to continue their education, the mobile trades program gives them a solid foundation for future success.

“We’ve built confidence, not just skills, and started to set people on a pathway to apprenticeship or trades programming so that they can further develop their skills and enter into a trade,” Heavens said.