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Aboriginal youth complete B.C. electrician training pilot program

Russell Hixson
Aboriginal youth complete B.C. electrician training pilot program

A group of aboriginal students from across British Columbia have recently completed the successful pilot testing of a streamlined program designed to bring them into the electrical trades.

The Alternate Pathways to Electrical Careers program, endorsed by industry and government, represents a new approach to skilled trades entry.

"There have been a lot of First Nations youth who haven’t been able to meet entry requirements to get into our entry level trades training program," said Andy Cleven, training director for B.C.’s Electrical Joint Training Committee (EJTC).

The EJTC wanted to engage more youth in their trade but was finding some students coming out of school did not have the high levels of math and science skills required to even begin training.

Cleven explained B.C. schools offer various levels of math and the electrical trade demands the highest level. While getting candidates up to speed so they can begin training is important, Cleven noted it is equally important to understand the trades and that being an electrician isn’t for everyone.

"We want to bring people into the trade who will be successful," he said. "This isn’t just a numbers game for us. This is to help people succeed, and our trade is not the type that is right for everyone. It is a trade where you have to be comfortable working with your hands, thinking with your mind. It is a physical trade, it is a wonderful trade and we don’t want to bring people into the system and have them not succeed."

Due to the success of the project, it has been given the green light to do another round of students. Cleven said much of the program’s success was due to it being industry driven.

EJTC partnered with SkillPlan to do a cognitive study of the electrical trades training program and compared it to math and science programs in the province. Then they came up with a condensed and focused course that would prepare students to achieve the benchmark of knowledge needed to begin electrical trades training.

"An industry-driven model of coming up with enhanced pre-training does work, and it actually fills a gap between what is happening in the school system and what is needed for people to be a success in our trade," Cleven said. "We saw a problem and we figured out a way to solve it."

The program began in January. A selected group of students from aboriginal backgrounds received individualized training from SkillPlan instructors in the math, science and English skills required for electrical apprenticeship. In March, they progressed to the long-established Entry Level Trades Training (ELTT) program, a 15-week combination of electrical theory and practice provided by the EJTC.

"We were more than pleased by the energy and excitement these students brought to our training centre," said Graham Trafford, president of the EJTC in a press release. "They’ve helped to show that an essential skills approach to electrical trades entry can be a practical alternative to the more common option, which is to return to high school to pick up missing credits."

The program is a collaboration among the EJTC, the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS) and SkillPlan, which is based in the B.C. Lower Mainland. ACCESS provided marketing and recruitment services, candidate assessment, student coaching and support services such as transportation.

"ACCESS has supported hundreds of trainees from aboriginal backgrounds in gaining skills certification," said John Webster, ACCESS CEO. "We are confident that the Alternate Pathways program will open up electrical trades entry to a wider spectrum of capable, motivated people."

On June 30, ACCESS hosted a graduation ceremony for the 14 students who completed the formal instructional part of the EJTC’s entry-level training. Now they are embarking on 10 weeks of paid work experience, a standard feature of the EJTC’s entry-level training. Funding for the pilot was provided by the Government of Canada through the Canada-British Columbia Job Fund.

"The electrical trades are an excellent career choice for men and women who bring the right aptitudes," said Kyle Downie, CEO of SkillPlan. "It’s a demanding trade, and entry standards need to be exact. The EJTC’s industry partners deserve credit for recognizing that a course focused on the essential skills needed for electrical work provides a strong equivalent to the math, science and English scores shown on a high school transcript."

The EJTC is a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 213 and the Electrical Contractors Association of BC. The EJTC provides direct training and training management services at the entry level, apprentice and journeyperson levels.

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