Saskatchewan’s construction industry is joining forces with educators to bring more Indigenous people into long-term employment in the trades.
The Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) previously had a job coach contract position paid for by the federal government through the Skills Link Employment Program, but funding was limited, explained SCA president Mark Cooper.
“We connect youth to the industry with an 85 per cent success rate, but we have 36 weeks of funding for 52 weeks in a year,” he said.
By joining forces with the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT), Cooper said, the SCA was able to fill the gap and at the same time bring an underrepresented group into construction.
Established in 1978, the SIIT hosts over 2,700 First Nations, Metis and Non-Status students. Approximately 1,000 of those students are enrolled in trades.
“We couldn’t get people full-time, but we wanted something located in Saskatoon, so we partnered with SIIT. They pay one quarter, the federal government pays three quarters, and it helps us involve Indigenous people in the construction industry,” he added.
Alieka Beckett has been named the liaison between the two organizations. She will act as a job coach at the SIIT as well as overseeing SCA’s involvement with the Skills Link Employment Program.
“SIIT is incredibly progressive and so is the SCA. My goal is to get out there and promote both organizations and get a lot more cohesion going,” Beckett said in We Build, the SCA’s member magazine.
“A really big part of this is building good partnerships with Aboriginal people and getting those really incredible, skilled people in the trades and working with the SCA’s partners.”
The SCA will interface with its member organizations to ensure young workers are not going to temporary or low-skill jobs, Cooper stated.
“It’s about building great relationships with employers. We want reputable, reliable employers who want to hire for the long-term. It also acts like a resource for SIIT, because now they’ll know who to talk to in the industry,” he said.
The SIIT also has extensive connections in the Indigenous community, meaning while the SCA will advertise through their own networks and the Internet, they will also be able to reach interested parties who they might not be able to connect to on their own.
Previously, the SCA has worked with the Canadian Construction Association on that organization’s Indigenous Engagement Guide, but Cooper said the SCA could be doing more.
“But we haven’t done a lot, and that’s why it made sense to partner with SIIT,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s a growing population of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan who want to be involved in the economy.”
The number of Indigenous people in the construction industry is now 15 per cent, which is analogous to general population levels of Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, Cooper said.
“But construction is an industry with low formal barriers, and it’s not a formal goal, but I would like personally to achieve an objective of one in four individuals in construction being Indigenous workers,” he said.
Cooper also cautioned Saskatchewan’s economy is not near the boom levels of previous years, which could affect hiring.
“The Saskatchewan economy is still pretty tight. Hiring happens in pockets and some people are leaving the province to work in the trades,” he added.
While in previous years there were other federal funds to draw upon, the only source currently is the Skills Link Employment Program.
“We’ve talked about other options, and if funding returns there’s more we could do. But it all depends on funding,” Cooper said.