One focus of the Saskatchewan education system in recent years has been improving high school graduation rates, particularly among aboriginal youth.
For some kids, however, even getting that diploma does not remove the stumbling blocks between education and getting a job.
That’s where the Dreambuilders’ Transition to Work Program comes in. Students complete a curriculum, which includes skills such as budgeting, résumé writing, interview skills, labour laws, and employer expectations. The program also helps participants obtain certification in skills such as first aid, CPR and safe food handling and sometimes facilitates work placement.
This year, the program added a new component providing training in the skilled trades, a partnership between Christ the Teacher Catholic Schools, Dreambuilders the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and a number of local trades-related businesses.
“This is an area in our community where there’s a gap,” said Chad Holinaty, CTTCS superintendent of education. “We’ve got obviously a growing economy, there’s a need for trades people in our community and in our province and there wasn’t another trades program for high school students that maybe became a bit disengaged with school.”
Nolan Crowe-Buffalo, one of the inaugural participants in the program, said it has given him direction.
“First off, it keeps your mind busy, you have something to do,” he explained. “You’re not sitting around at home bored and not knowing where you’re going in life.”
He added it has also provided him with tangible future prospects.
“You’re working with journeymen, they can get you into an apprenticeship right away, as soon as you’re done here,” he said.
The program teaches the basics of carpentry, plumbing and electrical.
Alvin Ballhead, another participant in the first edition of the program, said it has allowed him to follow-up in something he became interested in during high school woodshop.
“I love building stuff,” he said. “I want to be a carpenter when I’m older, have my own business.”
The program got going after CTTCS and Dreambuilders applied for and got a grant through Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Then they put together the local team.
“For example, Prestige Construction is providing some of our instruction support, R.H. Electric is our electrical provider and R. Miller is our plumber contractor,” Holinaty said. “They were very cooperative in scheduling their time.”
Charles Bellegarde, Dreambuilders employment program coordinator, added McMunn and Yates to the list as the construction materials provider.
“We also invited Sask Apprenticeship to come on board and get their input,” Bellegarde said. “All of the students that are working here will get credit to verified hours toward certification as a journeyperson.”
Bellegarde believes the program is not only good for the participants, but for the First Nations community as a whole.
“It’s great to have that connection in these trades and in industry because the majority of our First Nations people are underrepresented in these trades and industries,” he said.
The program also has participants in the cosmetology trade being taught at Sacred Heart High School this semester. Holinaty envisions the possibility of expanding into other areas as well, such as welding and automotive, but has no firm plans yet.
“Right now we’re just kind of growing with the program and excited about the opportunities it offers,” he said.
Bellegarde added that one student has already been interviewed for a job with one of the partner firms.
Holinaty also thinks the idea could very well snowball.
“The guys are having a lot of pride about being in the program and it’s starting to motivate other kids to say when the second rotation goes, ‘I want to be part of it’ and ‘how do I get into it’,” he said.