National Apprenticeships Program Brings a Message of Hope and Goal for the Future

Posted: New Initiatives:
Oct 12, 2023
  • Issue 17
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The National Apprenticeships Program (NAP), funded by the Government of Canada, continues to lead engagement sessions and meetings with Indigenous communities from coast to coast to coast. NAP brings a message of hope to these sessions and meetings.

Indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals who go through the program earn good wages, become a member of their union, and, most importantly, have acquired the competencies they need to address the infrastructure needs of their communities … whether it’s developing housing, building roads, or erecting schools.

We have heard incredible stories of achievement from Indigenous communities that have benefited from NAP. We have met journeywomen who entered a skilled trade as a plumber or millwright late in life as an apprentice and were able to transfer their skills to their own communities. And, we have seen how empowered this has made the Indigenous women and gender-diverse graduates feel.

The Indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals who have graduated from NAP realize the importance of normalizing their work—to demonstrate that they can be great welders, heavy equipment operators, plumbers, electricians … really anything they wish. Their voices and their personal stories send a powerful message to all Indigenous youth who aspire to join the skilled trades, but have not dare to imagine the possibilities of doing so in what has been a male-dominated field.

Trades and other types of training programs are being developed in many reserves across the country and in urban centres for Indigenous youth. Pre-apprenticeship or work preparedness programs are so important in helping youth understand the skills that are needed in each trade, what the work conditions are, and the types of tasks that will be done. Programs like these cover a wide range of topics from skills development, trades math, using power tools, safety measures, problem-solving, teamwork, and a general introduction to a specific trade. They are proving to be the best entry-level option for those who are still exploring their career options.

During our September engagement meeting in Akwesasne, the NAP team heard Amanda’s story. Amanda has been working as a welder in her nation for five years. She decided to join the trades at the age of 40. Her story reminds us that even though she came from a family of ironworkers, Amanda had never had a real chance to try certain tools and techniques when she was young. It was just assumed that she would not pursue an ironwork job like her six brothers. Decades later, she started to question why there was a wage gap between her and her siblings. It was because they were skilled workers. She started to visualize that future for herself, received training, and introduced herself to a local company that hired many Indigenous man as ironworkers from her community. She landed a job because she believed in herself and in her ability to do the same work as the men in her nation were doing. Amanda told us it was worth every minute to see how wrong those who did not believe in her were.

There are many Indigenous communities in the country that need new builds and maintenance services. There are many development corporations within nations that plan and implement construction projects for reserves. What would happen if all of those projects across the country hired an Indigenous woman or a gender-diverse person to apprentice in a trade or sponsored an Indigenous woman or gender-diverse person to be trained by them? What would happen if every contract for developmental projects insisted that an Indigenous woman or gender-diverse person be involved? How would communities change if women were given the chance to put their minds and skills to work?

Our vision is that NAP will not only expand the scope of people’s understanding of what a skilled worker is, but that Indigenous women and gender-diverse individuals will, as a matter of course, work to help build their communities.