Filling Skill Gaps With Aboriginal Apprenticeship Program

By: Kathy Bergstrom​

As Ontario struggles with a skilled trades gap, aboriginal Canadians are fighting a daunting challenge as well—Half of the aboriginal population is under the age of 25 and unemployment is nearly twice that of nonaboriginal population.

Harold McBride, Executive Director of the Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario, felt that skills gap firsthand as he struggled to recruit future crane operators. The union saw an opportunity to build a skilled Canadian workforce thr​​ough an aboriginal recruitment program.

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The May/June issue of Plans & Trusts highlighted the Operating Engineers Local 793 program, which seeks to increase the number of aboriginal​​ people, who include members of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, in heavy equipment trades.

Local 793’s training arm, Operating Engineers Training Institute of Ontario, has trained about 800 aboriginal clients in heavy equipment and crane operations over the last eight years.

“OETIO targets the aboriginal population as part of our made-in-Canada solution to fill the skills gaps in heavy equipment and other industry trades,” said Carla St. Louis, OETIO marketing director.

The union aims to recruit 50 new aboriginal members annually in the crane and heavy equipment sectors, including apprentices, preapprentices and regular members. The union also hopes to fill 47 spots in the six-week preapprenticeship program, which is offered only in heavy equipment.

[Related: Aboriginal Training and Apprenticeships
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To help foster the link between training and employment, Local 793 participates in the Aboriginal Apprenticeship board of Ontario and one of its programs, LINK = Aborignal Supply + Construction Demand, a new effort to connect aboriginal workers to construction jobs.“We do not want you to come and take training for the s​ake of training,” said Brian Pelletier, OETIO aboriginal coordinator. “We want you to have a potential employer.”

Local 793’s preapprenticeship program is a prime opportunity for aboriginal people to get started in skilled trades. The program is partially funded by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. After the six weeks of initial training, the preapprentice is assigned to an employer for an eight-week work placement and paid $13 per hour. The employer receives a $1,300 subsidy for the wages.

Most employers decide to keep the preapprentice, who then enters into the traditional heavy equipment apprenticeship program​, St. Louis said.

The union also has built relationships with aboriginal communities, and OETIO officials see more chance for success in aboriginal recruitment as those relationships grow.

 “I think that trust factor is increasing because we give them a commitment and we’re walking the talk,” Pelletier said. “The aboriginal people are seeing that we are in fact doing what we said we’re trying to do.”

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