Aboriginal youth take part in a pilot program led by Vancouver, B.C., Local 213 to teach them the skills necessary to enter an apprenticeship. Pictured: David Field (left), Grant Mayers, Cory Prasad and Jeff Innes.
Photo credit: Electrical Joint Training Committee and Chuck Russell  

In collaboration with the aboriginal community and the building trades, Vancouver, B.C., Local 213 led a pilot program to recruit and train aboriginal youth interested in pursuing a career as an electrician.

In many cases, aboriginal students aren’t offered high enough levels of math, science and English to qualify for an apprenticeship. The Alternate Pathways to Electrical Careers program was designed to bridge that gap – and it graduated 14 students on June 30 in its inaugural class.

“We’re showing the aboriginal community that we see the challenges they face and that we want to help,” said Local 213 Business Manager Adam Van Steinburg. “We don’t want to turn anyone away because they didn’t have the same level of access as someone else.”

The program began in January with individualized training from Skillplan instructors. Skillplan is the training arm of the British Columbia Building Trades and it conducted an analysis of provincial math and science programs as compared to apprenticeship requirements. It then crafted a course designed to offer the necessary training to students who were essentially falling through the academic cracks in their school’s curriculum.

“Our trade is very technical, the training is tough,” said Andy Cleven, training director of the Electrical Joint Training Committee. “The students really proved themselves. They worked incredibly hard.”

The program, funded by a grant from the Canadian government, is comprised of eight weeks of preparatory work to get students on the same level in math and science, followed by a 15-week entry level course in electrical theory and practice.

Once the students have completed both components, they then move on to 10 weeks of paid, hands-on work with signatory contractors. Once that is complete, they can start their apprenticeship, joining Local 213’s current group of 900 apprentices.

The graduates are currently working in marine, commercial, industrial and data sectors.

The students, who come from all areas of the province, responded well to the program, said Cleven and Van Steinburg.

“What I learned in this course surpasses what I learned in post-secondary courses,” said student Kristy Jacobs. “The teachers really care about you. You’re not just a number.”

Due to the success of the pilot, the program was given the OK for a second round, set to begin in October.

“This was a success because everybody involved really cared about the students – and the students were fantastic,” Van Steinburg said.

Some of the current contracts in British Columbia are on aboriginal land and project labor agreements may require a certain number of aboriginal people, giving projects like this a business incentive. But both Cleven and Van Steinburg said that the main reason for conducting the outreach is to grow the trade and level the playing field.

“We’re here for the industry, and for the people who are under-represented,” Cleven said.

Local 213 isn’t alone in its outreach to the aboriginal community. Locals in Newfoundland and Labrador have established a relationship with the Innu Nation.

Through the IBEW College, the Innu have access to resources including skills assessment, pre-apprenticeship training, career counseling and mentorship. The long-term goal is to eventually have a program run by the Innu, modeled on the IBEW’s, said Kelly Power, IBEW College training director.

“It’s a legacy project,” Power said. “The Innu Nation will be by our side for every aspect. And we’ll help bridge their relationships with other trades as well.”  

Cleven and Power have been invited speak at this year’s National Electrical Trade Council training conference on their respective programs. The annual conference brings together professionals from across Canada to share best practices in training and apprenticeships. NETCO is an association comprised of the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association and the IBEW in Canada. 

“We have kids coming up to us, excited to join the IBEW, and we have to say ‘sorry, go back to school.’ That’s not helping. And that’s when they can go nonunion,” Van Steinburg said. “There needs to be more than one way in, more than one way for these kids to have the same access to the life I have. That’s what this program does. That’s the IBEW way.”