Members from three northern B.C. indigenous communities celebrated the conclusion of a LiUNA Local 1611 construction worker training program in South Surrey on Monday.
The class of 13 – made of men from Burns Lake Band (Burns Lake), Kitselas First Nation (Terrace), and Wet’suwet’en First Nation (west of Burns Lake) and one non-Aboriginal woman – were joined for lunch by representatives from the students’ First Nations communities.
After the four-week course officially concludes March 31, the 12 indigenous students will then attend a Pipeline Safety Training program in Terrace with Local 92 (construction and general workers union).
The training was made possible through the provincial Aboriginal Skills Training Development Fund.
The students are completing their level one apprenticeship. Once they work 4,000 hours, they can do a level two apprenticeship.
The level one apprenticeship course includes studies on safe work practices, organizing work, tools and equipment, fencing, traffic control, site work, demolition, excavation, ladders, man lifts, utilities, pipelines, roadwork and concrete.
“It’s quite intensive,” said LiUNA Local 1611 administrator Fred Webber, adding that the students can become a red-sealed construction craft worker if they complete a provincial examination after level two apprenticeship training.
“Some of these guys are preparing for pipeline. The last class we did out in Chetwynd, everyone went on the pipeline for the Jack Fish Lake job,” Webber said.
Following the luncheon presentations, Surrey-Panorama MLA Marvin Hunt – who attended along with Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux – told Peace Arch News that “a lot of work needs to be done up in the north with various pipelines, all kinds of different projects.”
“First Nations have historically not been part of it. What we’re seeing here is the actual training of First Nations individuals so they can be part of those future jobs and be trained to do those jobs.”
However, not all of the students are interested in working on pipelines.
Jesse Ogen, from Wet’suwet’en First Nation, currently works for a forestry company in Prince George. He said he has experience with concrete testing/compaction, and expressed an interest in working in the construction industry – specifically working with concrete.
“Right now, I don’t have any schooling behind my forestry and the industry does not pay as much as construction would. I would have to do two year, or four year course to become (Registered Professional Forester) and it’s not something that I’m really enjoying right now,” Ogen said.
“I’ve been working for a year with it and I just wanted to find something new, and this opportunity came up so I jumped on board.”
Ogen said he’s hopeful to find employment in the construction industry once he returns home.
“The construction, I hear, is contracted out from bigger cities. A lot of the construction companies don’t really base themselves in Prince George, but they do have a lot of work,” he said.
James Seymour, interim manager of employment of Kitselas First Nation, attended the celebration Monday. He said his First Nation sent six students, four with extensive construction experience and two with very little experience.
He said he has worked with other pipeline training agencies before but it didn’t necessarily result in jobs for the students.
This opportunity, he says, is different.
“It’s worthwhile for bands and different organizations to invest in training that deals directly with unions because a lot of people go through (heavy equipment operator training) and very small percentages find jobs. But if they would have joined the union training… their chance of finding a job would have increased significantly,” Seymour said.