Building the trades

March 19, 2024

Previously published in the Winnipeg Free Press, Tuesday March 19, 2024

I agree with Tanya Palson’s position on the need to support apprenticeship training within the trades sector (Rebuilding apprenticeship, Feb. 23). As a representative of the Atoskiwin Training and Employment Centre of Excellence (ATEC) and Pewapun, a First Nation-owned and operated construction company, I can attest to the effectiveness of training and employment for our youth in Nisichawayasihk First Nation (located north of Thompson).

Our mission has been to foster environments where Indigenous individuals can thrive in skilled trades, ensuring they have the support, training, and opportunities to succeed. However, we face barriers in providing our workers with the full spectrum of apprenticeship training, making it difficult for them to obtain their Red Seal accreditation.

As Ms. Palson pointed out, we are anticipating a worrisome shortage of skilled workers.

First Nation communities have youth looking for training so they can get decent, well-paying jobs, and, as they do in Nisichawayasihk First Nation, help build the infrastructure their communities need.

We need to provide opportunities for as many First Nations youth as possible. I believe that this journey towards creating a more inclusive trades industry in Manitoba is a shared responsibility. It requires the commitment and collaboration of all stakeholders — including training centres, unions, employers, and government agencies — to dismantle barriers and create pathways for success for all, regardless of their background.

We are eager to collaborate with Manitoba Building Trades (MBT), an organization whose reputation and influence in promoting skilled trades are well recognized across Manitoba. We believe that by working together, we can leverage each other’s strengths to create more inclusive, equitable, and diverse opportunities within the trades, particularly for Indigenous communities who have historically been underrepresented in these fields.

We know from experience that the path towards creating inclusive opportunities in the trades for Indigenous Peoples requires persistent effort, innovative thinking, and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

To MBT, and indeed to all stakeholders within the trades industry in Manitoba, we extend an invitation to rethink how partnerships and collaborations can be formed and nurtured. The creation of an Indigenous-led union would be a groundbreaking step that would not only empower Indigenous workers in the trades, but also enrich the industry with diverse perspectives and skills.

Such a union is not merely an organizational goal; it is a step towards rectifying historical injustices, building a more equitable society, and enriching the trades industry with the immense potential that Indigenous communities bring to the table.

We invite MBT to engage in open and constructive dialogue with us, aiming to understand each other’s perspectives, challenges, and goals.

Let’s organize joint workshops and forums that bring together stakeholders from across the industry to discuss and brainstorm ways to support and promote Indigenous participation in the trades.

Work with us on pilot projects that can serve as models for how Indigenous-led initiatives within the trades can be developed and supported.

Exchange knowledge and best practices with ATEC/Pewapun on how to engage and support Indigenous communities effectively, acknowledging the unique challenges and opportunities these communities face. Let’s collaborate on advocacy efforts and policy development aimed at creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for Indigenous Peoples in the trades.

In conclusion, the journey toward creating a new Indigenous-led union and more broadly, towards a more inclusive and equitable trades industry, is undoubtedly challenging. Yet, it is a journey worth embarking on, for the benefits it promises not just for Indigenous communities, but for the industry as a whole. It is a journey towards a future where the trades are not only a source of livelihood but also a pathway to empowerment, community development, and reconciliation. We remain hopeful that government, employers, training centres and Manitoba Building Trades with all its affiliate labour members will join us in this effort, turning potential into action, and aspirations into reality.