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Six Nations Chief Ava Hill.

Time for a leap forward in skills training

Ontario minister and Six Nations chief speak at meet

With Six Nations Chief Ava Hill and Ontario Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation David Zimmer both making impassioned pleas at the recent Ontario Building Trades Council convention, to take a leap forward in First Nations skills training and economic development; one big question remained... is a breakthrough in sight?

Demand for trades training among First Nations youth
Zimmer told the delegates assembled in Hamilton, Ont. on the first day of the recent two-day conference that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has told the relevant cabinet ministers she wants to see significant progress towards reconciliation in five areas, including economic development. "Relationships between the indigenous world and the non-indigenous world, the labour movement and the government - have to, and is going to change."

The minister said there is a tremendous appetite for trades training among First Nations youth, which would mean a potential ready supply of new members for the 13 craft building trades within the Ontario Building Trades Council.

Forging links
For her part, speaking the second day of the conference, Hill described well-established construction infrastructure and training programs that have given the Six Nations a proven capacity to undertake a broad mix of construction projects. One partnership that shows potential, she said, is the newly created A6N, a joint venture with Aecon. There is also the Work-Ready Aboriginal People Program, created in association with the Hamilton-Brantford Building Trades Council of Ontario, which has enabled the Six Nations to forge links with 17 affiliates that represent over 25 construction trades and develop programs to expose indigenous youths to the construction trades.

In total, Hill said, the Six Nations has had over 80 new apprentices indentured in the Ontario system.

But even with all of these accomplishments over the years, Hill said there remain extensive unanswered needs. "We do want value for our citizens," said the chief. "We know that some projects can only be short term for some trades. However, once our members get trained through the apprenticeship programs, we would like to see them have long-term employment commitments."

Better partnerships with all parties are needed for her people to continue to progress in the construction sector, she said. "We are prepared to lobby the government to find a Canada-wide aboriginal apprenticeship initiative," said Hill.

She added, "In the spirit of a meaningful partnership, we would say that the unions and contractors must fulfill their commitment to aboriginal hiring and this should include meaningful and long-term positions and not just token jobs."

Support from the building trades
Ontario Building Trades Council business manager Patrick Dillon offered assurance that the trades are supportive of the province’s stated intention to boost its training and development programs.

"There is a genuine interest in our industry, particularly from the trade-union side, but from our contractors too. In general, we are interested in being involved in doing the right thing," Dillon said.

Dillon called Hill’s speech the most impactful of the conference.

(From the Journal of Commerce)

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