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Aboriginal programs provide many benefits

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
While now offered to all audiences, depending on the project, WMC’s pre-employment training program, the Wood Employee Readiness Curriculum, was originally created for equity groups.  
As a result, we have worked extensively with a whole range of demographics and communities to develop high quality entry-level workers for the woodworking sector. This includes New Canadians, youth with barriers to employment, women in non-traditional trades and persons with disabilities. One of the most interesting groups we have worked with has been the aboriginal community. Like all of our deliveries, the goal is to train for employment, not just to have training for the sake of training.  We deliver the Essential Skills, offer training for safety certificates, feature our woodshop training and include a Work Experience component.
A really beneficial outcome of the training we have done with aboriginal groups is that woodworking and construction/renovation skills are more widely available in the communities where the participants reside. As part of the training and during the Work Experience component, our participants have had opportunities to build things needed by their communities and to help renovate and repair some of the existing housing stock in their local areas on reserve. We have also trained people who have had Work Experience and some that have gone on to work full-time with organizations that help to maintain and repair urban aboriginal housing. Overall project participants have gone to work in traditional woodworking companies, manufactured housing firms, and many others have also been employed by a variety of entities on reserve as well.  
In an earlier WMC project we worked with a major manufactured housing company on a program to assist in the development of an aboriginal workforce. The ultimate goal was to sell more houses to reserves, and their plan was well thought-out. Increasing their aboriginal workforce would have many benefits. There would be an opportunity to demonstrate aboriginal participation in the manufacturing of the product to start, and they were working on having aboriginal workers that could also be involved, on-site, in the installation of the product. They hired people from several reserves and again, the skills gained went back to a variety 
of communities.
More than half of indigenous peoples in Canada live in urban centers. Canada has an urban aboriginal strategy, which has as its goal to increase the economic participation of aboriginal people living in cities across Canada. Amongst the outcomes it seeks to achieve is support for urban aboriginal people to increase their participation in the economy and to enhance a strong and stable base of urban aboriginal organizations to support urban aboriginal people. They are also looking to achieve improved linkages and policy integration within the federal government, leading to better opportunities for partnerships.       
Canada’s National Housing Strategy is a 10-year, $40 billion plan creating a new generation of housing in Canada, giving more Canadians a place to call home. Amongst the goals are to strengthen the middle class, cut chronic homelessness in half and fuel our economy. This is the first-ever National Housing Strategy that the government created to help drive the success of Canada’s housing sector by giving more Canadians affordable homes. The National Housing Strategy priority areas for action include Indigenous housing and one of nine shared outcomes is that the housing needs of Indigenous people are identified and improved. The plan is to address urgent housing needs on-reserve with some significant investments and the strategy includes supporting the renovation and retrofit of existing houses on reserve and assistance for skills and capacity development for the design, construction, inspection and overall management of housing on reserve. Indigenous Services Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing will also support a range of housing needs. There is also recognition of the need for construction of new shelters for victims of family violence and the renovation of existing shelters in First Nations communities on reserve.  
There are several strong examples of impressive, supportive aboriginal training programing across the country. YouthBuild, at the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology, is one. Students with indigenous ancestry get their high school diploma while training for a career. They have two 10-month programs offering participants academic, vocational and on-the-job training. They encourage students to stay in school, develop their self-esteem and to create a career plan. Students have access to an indigenous student advisor, support service and employment resources. YouthBuild has proven success in helping students earn their Grade 12 diploma and to secure employment. YouthBuild’s “Exploration to Trades and High School” program offers for-credit high schools courses, which include woodworking, construction technology, math 
and English language arts at the Grade 12 level.
Essential Skills and employment readiness outcomes are integrated into all courses. Students will have the opportunity to obtain various safety certificates and their driver’s license. Students will participate in the construction related work experience. Their Carpentry Level 1 program is accredited by Apprenticeship Manitoba and follows the Carpentry Level 1 Apprenticeship Manitoba program and integrates Essential Skills into all courses 
to enhance employability and 
job readiness. Students will train with the goal of securing long-term employment in the construction and renovation industry. A work practicum is included in this program and all hours can be applied to the certification for Apprenticeship Carpentry Level 1.  
Most of WMC’s programs are for youth, aged 18 to 29.  YouthBuild courses are for 19 to 35 year olds.  We certainly see that there is interest and there would be an opportunity to train older people, if funding for that cohort was secured. The satisfying part of our work with the aboriginal community is that successful participants are getting opportunities, as part of the training, work experience and/or subsequent employment, to participate in the upgrading of housing on reserve or urban aboriginal housing. They are learning and enhancing skills and gaining experience, all while making a valuable contribution - giving back to and improving their communities

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