Brad Tronson knows the value of having support when you are trying to make decisions about your career. He had worked in construction for 10 years when an injury on the job changed everything. Forced out of the career he loved, Brad ended up working in security to pay the bills but his heart wasn't in it. Fortunately, he bumped into an old friend who told him about a program that could help. Even better, it was being offered right in his own community — Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB).
As Brad discovered, OKIB's pre-employment program helps community members take the first steps towards a life-long career. Designed and delivered in partnership between OKIB and Okanagan College, this training program caters to the specific needs of the community. With the support of funding provided by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and the Province of British Columbia, the program was recently expanded to include essential skills training and Adult Basic Education. The program now includes a five-month curriculum that equips students with practical skills and industry-specific certification that will make them more employable.
Like many of the students in the program, Brad faced several barriers to finding long-term employment. He didn't have a computer, Internet access or the skills to research career options and education requirements. Moreover, without a driver's license, he couldn't drive to classes or interviews outside the reserve. The pre-employment program helped him assess his skills, learn how to explore the job market and even obtain his driver's license.
By the end of the program, Brad was able to choose a career path that inspired him and he registered for the carpentry and joinery program at the Okanagan College Kelowna campus. "I've built houses for 10 years and I'm good at working with wood. I figured joinery is right up my alley and it's less physically demanding."
Brad recently won a bursary for Aboriginals in Trades and is on track to complete the college program in March and plans to pursue a Red Seal certificate in carpentry soon. However, another career change may be in store. He was recently approached by the Dean of Carpentry to help recruit Aboriginal youths to train for working in the trades. He will have to complete another college program to be eligible but looks forward to deciding on which career path to take – career options that were not on the horizon six months ago.
"I'm glad I found the program," says Brad. "Teresa and Jennifer really helped me find a career I can get excited about. I like what I'm studying now and look forward seeing where it will take me."
FOR STUDENTS OF OKANAGAN INDIAN BAND'S EMPLOYMENT PROGRAM, SUCCESS IS TAILOR MADE
Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) and Okanagan College have put considerable care and attention into ensuring its pre-employment program meets the needs of its members. They know that if individuals succeed, the community as a whole will also benefit.
To help ensure the pre-employment program addresses community needs, OKIB and Okanagan College continually seek input from Band stakeholders, students as well as program alumni. The program was recently expanded to include essential skills training, employability certification and Adult Basic Education through funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Province of BC. As a result, the course curriculum includes not only typical pre-employment training topics such as skills-assessment and resume writing but also workshops that focus on Aboriginal culture, communication skills, financial management, healthy eating and fitness.
OKIB Social Development Worker Cindy Brewer, Okanagan College Program Coordinator Cindy Meissner and lead facilitator Teresa Proudlove designed the pre-employment program to integrate foundational Aboriginal workshops throughout. "We have Social worker Molly Brewer talking to students on topics such as relationships, addictions and anger management that could be potential barriers to employment. Elder Judy Goodsky comes in to facilitate workshops about Aboriginal history and the medicine wheel helping students learn more about their heritage and how to keep themselves in balance" says Proudlove. "Many employment programs miss these critical cultural elements which reinforce students' honour and pride in their culture."
Joshua Edwards, a current student, has found the broad range of topics helpful. The class "got into depth with some of the cultural stuff," he says. "I'm not normally interested in my culture so it was pretty cool to hear about it." Kane Alexis, another student, was surprised at the number of topics that are covered. "I thought it would only be about upgrading education requirements but it was more about developing social skills and gaining all kinds of employable skills."
Jennifer Jack is the recruiter and facilitator from the OKIB office. Her deep knowledge of this close-knit community helps her identify people who would most benefit from this program. Now a proud mother of two, she was once a young woman on welfare without a high-school diploma and few prospects. When she became pregnant, she decided to fight for a second chance. She completed the necessary upgrades and continued on to receive her Human Services Diploma and her degree in social work.
Jennifer uses her journey as an example to keep students motivated. She likes to remind community members that it's never too late. "I barely thought I could earn a diploma, let alone a degree. It was scary but I went back."
Equally important is simply creating an environment where people want to come to class every day. "The program is here at Okanagan Indian Band. That's really fantastic; it makes it easier to get here," Proudlove says. Simply coming to class makes a difference she continues, "What would you be doing if you weren't making a commitment to come to class everyday for five months to focus on your career?"
Amber Phelan, a graduate of the program who is now taking Business Administration at Okanagan College agrees. "A lot of students would never come to town to participate in something like this, first of all because of transportation and gas and everything else."
The presence of the classroom in the community also helps reminds people that their friends and family are taking concrete steps towards building a future says Amber. "Having the program here is really cool because it spreads awareness through the community. Parents hear about it and they want their children to do something with their lives. It just opens doors for so many people and gives people a push to do something great."