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To make connections with indigenous communitites, BC Hydro has used outreach, scholarships, site visits, created skill-building through youth and pre-apprentice programs and supported training for pre-requisites and apprenticeships.

"Building the aboriginal connection"
at the Open Shop Leaders Forum

Former Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Philp Hochstein was the moderator for the "building the aboriginal connection" session at the Open Shop Leaders Forum held on May 9 in Whistler, B.C., with panelists Laurie Sterritt, the director of aboriginal development and business development at BC Hydro, and Terry Brown, a partner at Legacy Bowes Group Business Advisory Services.

BC Hydro's experience

Sterritt said she was drawn to BC Hydro not only to facilitate more aboriginal engagement; but also to help with the many capital projects being developed in remote locations.

"These communities are going to be around a long time and so are we, so we'd better do something different," Sterritt said.

She added that in some cases, working with First Nations means owning up to past mistakes.

If a company is new to this change in engagement, Sterritt advised, it can be best to try for incremental change rather than tackling a big problem all at once.

The BC Hydro process is to first create awareness through outreach, scholarships and site visits, then create skill-building through youth programs and pre-apprentice programs as well as supporting training for pre-requisites. Training consists of apprenticeships and other aspects of corporate work, and finally hiring and retaining.

In the last year BC Hydro has had 53 Aboriginal hires, and 18 out of 20 youth hires were Aboriginal. BC Hydro also completed and implemented a new Aboriginal procurement policy and supported procurement and capital projects across the province.

"Demonstrate leadership, be courageous and challenge your assumptions," Sterritt said," and don't be fearful of doing the wrong thing."

Sterritt also said it's important to approach a community with a long-term relationship in mind. "If you're coming just to get what you need short term, they can see you coming a mile away," she said.

The challenge of creating world class proposals

Terry Brown, of Legacy Bowes Group Business Advisory Services, said the reason to do business with First Nations is not only a young workforce but also that there are over 1600 grants available and only 300 are used every funding cycle. There are also programs for education and training, and environmental and natural resources projects are also eligible for funding when First Nations communities are involved.

The main challenge with nations, Brown said, is to create world class proposals, and instead of hiring consultants, he appealed to those in the room to assist First Nations to meet this challenge.

Best practices, Brown said are to realize that every nation is different. Find out the "ask" of the nation. Is it jobs, economic development, or social benefit? He added one can also talk to those who have already done business with a nation, and the federal government has first nation profiles and organization management status web sites.

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