Job analysts have always said there is an untapped workforce on reserves in Alberta but few companies knew how to utilize that potential, until recently.
Since last November, members of the Montana Band have received training to get their welding certificates with help from a manufacturing company called Landmark Industrial Services.
Getting the program up and running took collaboration among Montana Band, Landmark, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Government of Alberta and two affiliates of the Montana Band; the Akamihk Community Development Society (ACDS) and Bobtail Ventures.
Helping bring everyone together was Vickie Wetchie, with ACDS and Allen Mays, regional manager for Landmark.
The first class of 14 is set to graduate in the next few weeks, said Wetchie. She said an open house Wednesday, Feb. 24 at a facility on the Montana band territory brought key players from around the province.
“There was about 40 industry partners there,” she explained.
This first group of First Nations students were from the Montana Band, but Wetchie says anyone from the four nations of Maskwacis Cree who is willing to get their certificate should apply. Once graduated, the students will be able to apprentice with their welding certificate.
“One of the biggest reasons it’s exciting is . . . we’re always missing that link to industry,” said Wetchie.
Mays agreed. He said a few years ago he looked at the possibility of having to hire people from as far as China to get labourers but an untapped First Nations workforce made him rethink that.
“We’ve actually been working on putting together this endeavour and partnership since 2012,” said Mays.
Training is not set up like a typical classroom either. Students get real work experience and welding training during the five month program. Landmark has also shown its commitment to the program by setting up shop and leasing from Montana Band.
“This helps us reach out to the younger people who might not know what they want to do in life,” said Mays.
“To have this opportunity and put this together and see it working . . . it’s just great,” he added.
Mays said he had enjoyed working closely with the Montana Band to bring the project together.