Transforming lives in Winnipeg’s urban aboriginal community

By Trevor Greyeyes

With the opening of their new industrial training center, Neeginan Institute of Applied Technology (NIAT) is serving notice to businesses in Winnipeg that they’re open for business.
Recent graduates from the aboriginal technical program were rubbing shoulders with government bureaucrats, aboriginal programmers and the media at the newly opened Neeginan Technical Centre. It’s located beside the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg.

The new technical centre allows NIAT to have their students train in a number of situations with standard industry equipment.
For Kelly Spence, 35, participating in the NIAT has been nothing more than a miraculous transformation of her life. The single mother of a 16-year-old girl now finds herself employed at a career she loves.

“Applying has been a life altering decision,” said Spence. “It was the best career choice I ever made.”

She now works for Standard Aero where her career began as an aircraft mechanic. After working in that position for a year, she is now training for a new position as a Details Inspector. Spence said it involves looking at engine parts and deciding if they’re good or bad and if the parts are good enough to be used in an aircraft engine.

While she was being trained by NIAT, it became necessary for the college to book space at other facilities that had the equipment they needed to be trained on.

Spence said the addition of the new building and the equipment will really help out the next batch of students ready to enter their training programs.

For Rhonda McCorriston, NAIT director, it’s about bringing real jobs to honest hard working people.

“The jobs we train people for aren’t simple labour jobs,” said McCorriston. “Our training needs to reflect where they’re working.”

And for her that not only means training her students on the proper equipment but also training them, for example, in the afternoon if they are going to be hired working the afternoon shift.

As well, NIAT only trains people for jobs that their industry partners have already identified as an area where they need people.

NIAT current industry partners include: Avion Services Corporation, Boeing Canada Technology, Border Glass and Aluminum, Carlson Engineering Composites Ltd., Custom Steel Manufacturing Limited, Manitoba Aerospace Human Resources Coordination Committee, Manitoba Hydro and Standard Aerospace Ltd.

McCorriston said, “More of our graduates would’ve been here but unfortunately they’re all working. And those here are attending because their employers have let them off early to be here.”

Ricky Lawrence, Standard Aerospace Director of Training and Development, said the partnership has served everyone involved really well.

“This is good for us,” said Lawrence. “Lucky enough, we know the people in the training process.”

So far, they’ve hired all the graduates from earlier programs with NIAT.

Garry Swampy, 21, from Sagkeeng First Nation located 100 km northwest of Winnipeg, is a young man who feels it’s a great opportunity to start his career working at Boeing Canada. Though he’s not married yet, he does have a girlfriend; he said it would give him a chance to really provide for a family when he starts one. Although, he is in no hurry to start a family right now.
“The pay is great,” said a beaming Swampy. “Once you’re in the company, you can go anywhere. In terms of, you know, if you want to keep on working in production or go into management.”
Herman Hansen, Boeing’s Manager of Training and Development in Winnipeg, said with part of the 707 contract (a
government contract to buy planes) coming to the city that there is a need for skilled workers at the Boeing plant.

Hansen said, “Our staffing requirements have increased significantly. We’re trying to hire as many qualified people as we can and this program is consistent with Boeing’s diversity growth.”

Boeing has been working with NIAT for the last six months and has had 10 Aboriginal students to date.

“Rhonda McCorriston is focused on providing us with the best possible candidates. We’re really looking forward to the partnership,” said Hansen.

Roy Mahon has been with NIAT for the last six months as the manager of Technological and Industrial Partnerships and is responsible for retrofitting the building that became the technical centre and working with the trades programs.

“We bought the best equipment and materials to get the best jobs,” said Mahon of his work with NIAT.

The building was purchased from an autobody shop that had been located next to the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg since it first opened its doors. Mahon described looking at the building and wondering if the project could be done but he had faith.
With about $600,000 (most of that federal money), he fixed the roof, cleaned up the interior, painted the walls and bought the equipment for training.

The technical centre will offer aboriginal adults the chance to learn skills like welding, aircraft maintenance and bench work.
As invited guests moved through the sparkling recently retrofitted building, they looked at stations that had welding machines, drill presses of all kinds, steel lathes and a few curious onlookers wondering what certain large machines actually did.
Harvey Bostrum, Manitoba deputy minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs said the technical centre is part of a longer term process that has seen a group of aboriginal organizations come together to buy the former CP Station in Winnipeg and transform it into the Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg in the early 90’s.
Now, the Aboriginal Centre houses programs that run the gamut from early childhood to post-secondary education.

Bostrum said, “When these people came forward and bought the building many thought it would be a white elephant.”

For training and education, the Aboriginal Centre has become a one-stop service centre with many of the organizations complementing each other.

The Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD) is the organization responsible for starting and administering NIAT. CAHRD has served the aboriginal community for the last 35 years. Combined with NIAT and its other programs, CAHRD has been training about 400 to 500 people a year and finding jobs for 1200.

For instance, McCorriston pointed out that a person coming into the building goes to CAHRD to find a job. There are a number of programs that is offered including job search skills, resume workshops and career counseling. An individual can also be tested to determine their skill and education level.

If it’s below a certain point, there is the literacy program that can give students the skills to take high school courses, also offered at the Aboriginal Centre through the Aboriginal Community Campus. After finishing their high school training, the student can then be streamed into one of the post-secondary courses offered through Neeginan Institute of Applied Technology.

Courses are offered as demands in different skilled areas change. Currently, NIAT offers courses in carpentry, aerospace technology, nursing and welding.

For students with children, there is a daycare. For health needs, there is the Aboriginal Health and Wellness organization that can offer anything from elder counseling to doctor check-ups.
Now, the various aboriginal groups at the Aboriginal Centre own property that stretches over several acres in the heart of Winnipeg stretching from Main and Higgins to the former site of Manitoba Cold Storage several city blocks south of the main building.

McCorriston said they are planning to build housing for aboriginal students attending school. It should be completed by Dec. 31, 2007.

“We are all about trying to get people jobs and breaking the cycle of poverty,” said McCorriston.