Ever since she first learned about skilled trades in high school, Taylor Riley knew she wanted to become an electrician.
“I started leaning toward electrical when I took a Grade 9 course,” said the 23-year-old of Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and Oneida Nation of the Thames.
“It was a big interest to me. It had always been in the back of my head” since then, Riley said.
Despite being rejected for a pre-apprenticeship program last year, after having little time to prepare for the entry test, she remained hopeful. “I didn’t get in, but it motivated me more.”
Monday, Riley joined half a dozen students in a skilled trades training program designed specifically for Indigenous young people, believed to be the first of its kind in Ontario.
“With this program coming out, it’s giving me this big opportunity that’s going to push me forward,” she said. “Hopefully, this will become a lifetime thing."
The electrical pre-apprenticeship program is headed by Chippewas of the Thames First Nation and works in partnership with a London-area labour union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 120, to help Indigenous young people gain technical skills and certifications, as well as find employment in the skilled trades sector.
“It really is meant to be a supportive environment where young people can connect with the student advisers, connect with training instructors, really get the most out of the material … and be inspired,” said Meaghan MacLeod, the program’s project manager and youth worker at the First Nation.
Monday, the labour union hosted the program launch that featured a drum song by a student adviser and an address from Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Chief Jacqueline French.
The program, funded through the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development, is open to Indigenous people in London and surrounding First Nations — Munsee-Delaware, Oneida Nation of the Thames and Chippewas of the Thames — between the ages of 18 and 30.
About 150 students participate in the first of the program’s three stages, which sees up to 12 students each week during a three-month span, and provides life skills, such as first aid and diversity training. The second stage is limited to 100 of those participants and offers construction-site training, while the final stage is reserved for 50 students who will gain transferable skills to work in any trade. In the end, up to five participants are selected to complete paid apprenticeships.
Participants receive various supports, including free transportation, free lunch and a wage subsidy of $120 a day.
Describing the program as a “win-win for everybody,” Jason Martincich, a training instructor with IBEW Local 120, said skilled trades workers — especially those underrepresented in the sector, such as Indigenous people — are in short supply.
“We're trying to get more youth in to fill in those gaps. In fact, even right now, we're desperate for all trades, not just electrical,” he said.
Martincich hopes the new Indigenous skilled trades training program encourages other unions to offer the same. “It’s never been done before,” he said.
“It would be great to develop this program and, if it succeeds the way that we're planning, it can start spreading across the province and then start spreading across the country.”
For more information on the program, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bb_Idc3XbE.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press