Bringing Trades to the People

Trades programs are coming to Indigenous people in unique ways, from unions and workers associations, to mobile schools and government outreach.

Alternative education to postsecondary institutions can be vital to gaining employment. According to Statistics Canada, Aboriginal people who completed postsecondary education had an employment rate of over 75%, but those with less than high school were at a rate of just over 40%.

The Indigenous population is the fastest growing in Canada – and that translates into more need of representation in the workforce. Over the next decade, of those aged 25-64, the Indigenous labour force will grow four times more than those who aren’t Indigenous.

Skilled trades and apprenticeships are becoming more tailored to Indigenous communities. Some outreach programs are literally coming to their doorsteps.

The Nicola Valley Institute of Technology has two campuses in Merritt and Vancouver, but it offers a third option for learning. Their Bridging to Trades program brings two 53’ mobile trailers around the province for a 12-week, pre-foundational training in one of four trades. 

The idea is to introduce skills in electrical work, plumbing/pipefitting, machining, and welding before a student decides if they want to continue on that path and go to a trade school. 

Dr. John Chenoweth, Associate Vice-President, says the program has been going strong for 10 years. They’ve visited around 45 to 50 communities around the province and complete 60 hours in each trade, plus 60 hours of employment readiness.

“The biggest things we want to achieve out of this, is a lot of these students probably haven’t graduated from high school,” he says. “They probably don’t have a thought in their mind that they have the ability to to those things.”

Chenoweth says the one of the neat things about the program is that some of their instructors also haven’t finished high school, but they have 30 to 40 years in successful careers as tradespeople.

He says even the students who don’t end up going into the trades still come out of the program with skills and a confidence they didn’t have before.

“One of the most positive things we see is students say, yeah, I’ve learned that I don’t want to be a tradesperson, but I didn’t realize I was such a good student at math. Maybe I want to go into business, or get my grade 12 and become a teacher,” he says. “It’s almost like an awakening program for students who feel like, I can do anything. That’s what that program does, ultimately.”


In 2016, Canadore College in North Bay, Ontario announced its Aboriginal Women in the Trades program. Women will participate for 12 weeks and learn on of four trades: electrical, plumbing, construction, or carpentry. 

The program is unique: tuition is free. The Ontario Poverty Reduction Fund partnered with community members so women receive training, materials, and bus passes to remove any barriers to participating. 

The certificate program has a cultural foundation, using holistic approaches to learning and academic support. 

Judy Manitowabi, Manager of the First Peoples’ Centre at Canadore, said that increasing these women’s capacity for skilled labour lays a positive foundation for growth in Indigenous communities

“This is intended to be an introduction to help women find the path best suited to them,” she said in a school statement. “Upon completion, they will have basic skills to rely upon, but they will also be qualified to further their education in the skilled trades at the postsecondary or apprenticeship level.”


The Government of Canada has also invested in making trades programs more accessible to Indigenous people. Last month, the government announced funding for Indigenous apprenticeships in New Brunswick. More than one million dollars will be provided to MAP Strategic Workforce Services (MAPSWS) for its First in Trades Program. 

MAPSWS will open up 18 to 20 Indigenous apprenticeships positions within 14 unions of the New Brunswick Building Trades Unions. 

In Alberta, the Flexibility and Innovation in Apprenticeship Technical Training (FIATT) program funded a welding program in partnership with Red Deer College and the Montana First Nation. Starting in 2018, it will teach 50 Indigenous apprentices from rural communities to become certified welders. 

Rhonda Stangeland, Project Coordinator of FIATT at Red Deer College, said the partnership has allowed students to explore new career pathways.

“The project combined the use of a redesigned curriculum delivery model and learning technologies to prepare 50 Aboriginal learners for a career in welding,” she said in a press statement. “Now many of them have completed their technical training and are on their way to finding jobs in their chosen trades.”