A pilot program is underway in almost 30 First Nation communities in the northwest to determine if more apprenticeship certification can be completed using distance education.
Earlier in March of 2007, Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board (SLAAMB) received a grant from Human Resources Social Development Canada for Aboriginal Apprenticeship Research.
The goals were for First Nation trade workers to achieve their designation and certification through a three year pilot program at the Centre for Aboriginal Apprentice Research or(CAAR).
Some tradespeople are gaining on-the-job experience through two new Sault Lookout construction projects worth over $1 million each: The Meno-Ya-Win Health Centre and the other a hostel.
Before the students could be placed however, they underwent a series of challenging exams, challenging in that the exams were in English and their native tongue is Oji-Cree, so there were translation barriers said Bob Bruyere, SLAAMB's coordinator. Some of the students were already in the workforce as apprentice electricians and carpenters but comprehension of math, particularly algebra, on paper tended to be a bit of a challenge for many, he said.
“These students have been out of school for a number of years as well.”
As a result the testing marks indicated many of the students required tutoring, so SLAAMB adjusted the curriculum to add an extra six-hours-a week of math to the program.
When the CAAR program began, an estimated 78 participants enrolled with two students reaching domestic and rural journeyman electrician designation, three journeyman carpenters and eight carpenter apprentices, five labourers, two heavy equipment operators, one job site superintendent trainee and one project manager trainee working at the above construction sites.
Now, more than 300 First Nation people are registered in the pilot program and are working or have worked on their tutoring or pre-apprenticeship employment studies. They are waiting to jump in with a company as a labourer or apprentice.
The challenge is most of the students don't want to leave their communities, says Glen Drewes, business manager with the International Brotherhood Electrical Workers Local 402.
He and Bruyere have met in Thunder Bay to determine what kind of education can be delivered to remote communities using a pilot program for line maintenance workers.
Although there are many more programs that can be delivered by CAAR, this particular one is of interest to dozens of First Nation communities.
Electrical technicians often have to fly into remote communities to turn the break switch back on after an electrical surge. This can cost $10,000, Drewes says.
Some communities have diesel generators, while others have wind, solar, or co-generation power. The intent will be for tutors to educate students in the community's respective energy source, but they will not obtain designation or certification, unless they obtain the academic portion of the training.
Course delivery is done through Confederation College distance education operations.
Bruyere said more than 15 trade union are in contact with SLAAMB to establish a working relationship to place or employ as many First Nation skilled trade students as they can. Moreover, the program has become nationally recognized as other areas of Canada are eager to adopt new strategies for First Nation skills development.