Apprenticeships: A Journey of Empowerment

Aug 04, 2023

NWAC’s National Apprenticeships Program (NAP) advocates for Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, transgender, and gender-diverse+ (WG2STGD+) people to be included in the construction and manufacturing trades. With funding from the Government of Canada, the program is an important step forward in representing Indigenous WG2STGD+ people in typically male-dominated trades and in fostering a brighter and more inclusive workforce.

Once again, NWAC is breaking down barriers and opening doors for aspiring apprentices. We are proud to be promoting diversity and inclusivity among small and medium-sized enterprises. It is a privilege to advocate for these businesses, on behalf of our applicants, some with very little or no experience in the skilled trades, but are driven and excited about starting a new opportunity, regardless of their skillsets. Despite not having a robust resumé, é significant number of apprentices are in the program to pursue their passions and gain valuable skills. This alone demonstrates commitment and a willingness to learn, which any business would be lucky to count on.

One year ago, when NAP was launched, we started to hear from Indigenous journeywomen and gender-diverse workers around the country who were willing to share their experience with us. Their lives had been positively impacted by joining the skilled trades and they had achieved their career goals. We heard the stories of single mothers around the land who started an apprenticeship, got their certificates, and joined a union. Some of them joined the trades through different programs over the years and worked hard to shape their own future. That is the case of Raven, a member of Gitxaala Nation, Git lax mo’on (People of the Saltwater), just off the coast of Prince Rupert, who moved to Vancouver in 2006 to build a career as a plumber:

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to become, but I knew I was working towards something. My father always told me that it would be wise to get a trade under my belt, so I went for my plumbing, Gas B fitter, and steamfitter tickets. I am a triple ticketed as a Red Seal Plumber, steamfitter, and certified Gas B fitter. Being a member of UA has benefited my family a lot, such as health care benefits, job security, great wages, and growth as an individual. Growth through education is vital. It is important that we have skilled workers to bring quality to our industry. The more we work together and learn and educate ourselves, the more we can invest in our future.”

When we embark on a new path, we encounter obstacles, but knowing we are not alone, that we can count on NWAC’s advocacy, helps us hope for a better future. There are great challenges and unique barriers ahead for Indigenous WG2STGD+ people when entering a male-dominated industry. That is a truth worth telling, and by acknowledging the challenges ahead, we can move forward with the support of the National Apprenticeships Program.

These are the words of Kaylyn, an electrical apprentice in northeast Alberta, who has recently found her career path through NAP:

“The assistance you provided in finding a sponsor for my electrician apprenticeship was truly life-changing. Your dedication to connecting aspiring Indigenous women with opportunities in trades is commendable. The mentorship, guidance, and resources you offered me were instrumental in shaping my career trajectory and enabling me to pursue my passion for the electrical trade. Moreover, your program fostered a supportive and inclusive community of like-minded individuals. The encouragement and camaraderie I experienced among fellow Indigenous women in the program were incredibly uplifting. Through networking events, mentorship programs, and workshops, I had the privilege of connecting with inspiring women who shared similar aspirations. The bonds I formed and the knowledge I gained from these interactions have been invaluable and will continue to guide me throughout my career.”

NAP has successfully endorsed apprenticeships for the following trades: construction and industrial electrician, welding, glazier, painter, sprinkler fitter, and heavy equipment operator. Apprentices who successfully complete these programs can look forward to future autonomy and financial security.

But another important impact is that SMEs that join our program believe NAP is a step toward reconciliation. NWAC is helping to expand their understanding of Indigenous culture and diversity and inclusion policies through NAP. That is the case for Poppy:

“As a woman business owner in a trade that is dominated by men, I am thrilled to be participating in this program that is getting women into the trades. I particularly love that it is giving Native women the opportunity to learn a trade that will benefit them for life. The program was easy to get signed up for and to get access to the grant funding. This incentive has allowed me to invest in training and mentorship programs, ensuring that our new apprentice receives the necessary guidance to succeed. I am proud to support our new apprentice, not just in her career development, but also in addressing other life challenges she faces as a Native woman. It is a privilege to be part of her journey and to have a positive impact on her life.”

The National Apprenticeships Program will continue advocating for greater inclusion in the construction and manufacturing skilled trades. The program has helped to create lasting connections and successful partnerships.