Success stories: Indigenous Labour Market Programs

Indigenous labour market programs are helping to change lives.

In spring 2019, the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) Program replaced the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy. The new ISET Program includes 4 distinct labour market strategies:

The Government of Canada and Indigenous partners are working together to:

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Keeping the traditional art practices of the Maliseet people alive

Natasha Sacobie is an artist from the Maliseet community of Kingsclear First Nation in New Brunswick. Her dream was to improve her creative abilities through understanding Wabanaki practices and learning traditional art. A staff member of the Wolastoqey Tribal Council (WTC) encouraged Natasha to develop her skills. She enrolled in the 2-year Wabanaki Visual Arts Program offered through the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design.

The WTC is one of over 110 Indigenous organizations delivering the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training program across Canada. Organizations like the WTC deliver job-training services to Indigenous people in their communities.

Natasha had to learn to manage work and school at the same time. For many artists it is hard to create when the desire is not there, but she kept going. “There were many sleepless nights creating until the sun came up and then I had to be in class for 9 a.m.!”

Natasha graduated from the Wabanaki Visual Arts program with distinct honours in June 2022. She got a residency with the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and this opened many doors for her. Recently, she received the Heather Stone, Emerging Artist of 2023 Award. Her words of advice for others, “If you have the motivation and drive, then you are limitless when it comes to manifesting your goals and dreams”.

Turning tragedy into triumph

Devon Bushie is from Hollow Water First Nation in Manitoba. He was in a serious car accident but that did not stop him from getting the skills he needed to start a new career. After a year of healing, Devon felt ready to get back to work. He reached out to the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD). The Neeginan Learning & Literacy Centre and the Neeginan College of Applied Technology help to deliver CAHRD’s education and post-secondary training services.

Devon completed Neeginan’s 10-month Building Operations Technician program. Now, Devon works on the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of a large shopping centre in Winnipeg.

CAHRD is one of over 110 Indigenous organizations delivering the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training program. Organizations like CAHRD design and deliver job-training services to Indigenous people.

“This program couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. This experience has shifted the whole future for my family. What surprised me the most was finding my career that I’m going to retire in!”

Devon encourages others to go after their career goals: “Luck favours those who try the hardest; you’ve got to be persistent and consistent.”

Getting into engineering as an Indigenous woman

Chennoa Tracy is a young Métis woman who graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a degree in mechanical engineering. Today she works as an assistant engineer with the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Chennoa worked hard to achieve her goals. But she also attributes her career success to the Gabriel Dumont Institute. This organization develops and delivers educational programs and services specifically for Métis people.

The Institute’s Training and Employment summer student program connected Chennoa with the Research Council’s Aboriginal Mentorship Program. Chennoa’s mentor, Sheldon, worked with her during 2 summer placements. He provided advice and support that built on her education and work experience.

Chennoa encourages others to get in touch with the Institute. “They help keep Métis people connected to our history and with each other like a community should,” she says. “They also helped me build my resume, get interviews and obtain a permanent job in my field of study, and I’m doing better than expected. I consider myself very lucky.”

Chennoa’s colleagues say she is willing to learn and interested in applying new skills. They say this makes her an asset to the Research Council.

Chennoa has advice for young women who are thinking of careers in science, technology engineering or math. She says “Always seek out opportunities, don’t get discouraged, and find a way to reach your goal.”

An Indigenous welder follows an unlikely path to fulfillment

“I would never consider myself a success story,” says Lucien Ledoux. “But when I look back to where I came from and where I am today, it’s undeniable that there’s been tremendous growth.” Lucien is the workforce development officer for Working Warriors and Running Deer Resources in Winnipeg.

Originally from the First Nation community of Pine Creek, Manitoba, Lucien grew up in the northwestern Ontario community of Wabigoon. When Lucien was 12 his father died, and his mother raised him.

Lucien had his share of struggles. Then a visit to a Service Canada Centre changed everything. The employment counsellor referred him to the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD), a non-profit organization that delivers to Winnipeg’s Indigenous population:

  • education
  • training, and
  • employment services

CAHRD works in partnership with the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) Program.

“CAHRD is a great organization, and ISET has been crucial to developing people and the skills that allow them to better themselves. For me, it was life-changing.”

Lucien is a welder by trade, and he originally wanted to build custom motorcycles. But a work trip to Thompson, Manitoba, had a profound impact on him. Lucien says when he gave money to someone asking for spare change on the street, an onlooker said he was just “causing a problem.”

The next day he attended a meeting about the Indigenous Apprenticeship program, which offered job-shadowing and certification programs. “I went from being a welder to a liaison officer and then became a workforce development officer to try to find meaningful employment for individuals, so incidents like this would never happen again.”

“There’s help out there if you want to better yourself. All you need to do is look and the rest is up to you. Through time, I have found something more fulfilling: engaging with Indigenous people and helping them to better themselves.”

Lucien feels strongly about helping young people reach their goals. “To provide a means for Indigenous youth to have a voice that will be heard and to provide a place where they belong is paramount for not only this generation, but future ones as well.”

A single mother gets an opportunity to pursue her dream career

After trying different occupations, Norma Condo decided she needed to pursue a career in something she was passionate about: cooking.

Norma was raised in a large First Nation family along the Gaspé Coast of Quebec. As a young girl, she watched intently as her grandmother prepared traditional Mi'kmaq meals for family gatherings. Her grandmother’s cooking inspired her to dream about one day becoming a chef.

At a career day, Norma discovered the Professional Cooking program at the Lester B. Pearson School of Culinary Arts in Lasalle, Quebec. She was so determined to join the program that she and her husband drove 9 hours to attend the interview. She was accepted and the family prepared for the move to Montreal.

But 1 month before she began her courses, Norma’s life was turned upside down when she tragically lost her husband. Now a single parent, Norma had to provide financially for her 5 kids, keep the household running and attend her classes.

Despite the challenges, Norma never gave up. “I had to be that role model for my kids and to show them that anything is possible if you put your mind in place and focus on what you want in life.”

Norma’s dream to attend the program was made possible by the grants she received from Quebec Native Women Inc., which was funded by the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program. It was just by luck that Norma discovered the organization while researching online to find funding for her tuition. “They were there when I needed the support. The advisor I had was very supportive and guided me through everything. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

While attending school, Norma was selected to represent the Mi'kmaq Nation in À la rencontre des grands chefs at the Fairmont Château Frontenac in Quebec City. The event pairs Quebec City chefs with chefs representing each of Quebec’s 11 Indigenous nations. Norma did so well that she was chosen to participate a second time.

Norma recently made her long-held dream come true by opening the Miqmak Catering Indigenous Kitchen in Montreal. “I’m so overwhelmed with all these amazing opportunities and experiences I’ve done! My journey hasn’t ended just yet, it has only started.” 

Success and opportunities come to the North

Holly Campbell knows that hard work, along with some financial support, can turn lives around. It certainly has helped her reach her goals.

An Inuvialuk from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, Holly worked a variety of jobs over the years for local, regional and federal governments. They were good jobs, but life wasn’t always easy for the young wife and mom of 4. She wanted more for her family and herself.

So, over the years, Holly managed to take six-and-a-half years of post-secondary studies. She completed 2 diplomas and, eventually earning her Bachelor of Management from the University of Lethbridge. To accomplish her goal, she and her family moved from Inuvik to Lethbridge twice while she took classes.

By the time Holly entered her final year of school, she realized she needed some financial help. She received it through the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, the local Indigenous service delivery organization. The Corporation is funded through the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ISET) Program.

“The ISET program definitely came at a time when I needed the financial support,” she says. “Attending post-secondary studies with a large family is difficult. I would not have been able to follow through with my studies if the ISET program was not available. Receiving financial support and not having to take on additional student loans is definitely a benefit. Providing travel back to your hometown was also beneficial.”

Holly now lives back in Inuvik. She has a job and now it’s her husband’s turn to complete his education online. Life is looking up for the family. “I would not have been able to continue on with my studies if they were not involved,” she notes. “My husband and children understood why we had to make some sacrifices and continued to encourage me to finish what I started.”

Holly has some advice for others in similar circumstances: “Plan ahead and plan smart, and be sure to prepare yourself. You will never move forward if you are afraid of what is between you and your goal. You never know what is to come if you don’t try. Making the effort is a must, as it is better to try and fail than to fail to try.”

Overcoming personal struggles to help the next generation

Laurel Sapp is a single parent of 3 from the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her dream was to own her own business, but she did not have all the tools. She knew she needed some help.

Laurel was proud to be an Indigenous woman in management. Sadly, she became ill and was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. She had no choice but to leave her job. Laurel was disappointed but not beaten. She accepted her condition and decided to pursue her life goal in spite of her poor health and busy home life.

She returned to school and applied to the local college to study Aboriginal community development. She had completed her first year when tragedy struck and her eldest son died. Devastated, Laurel didn’t think she could continue with her education and wasn’t planning to return. But she changed her mind after a supportive call from a staff member at the Battlefords Tribal Council, which was providing her with financial support for her education.

The Tribal Council delivers services for the Saskatchewan Indian Training Assessment Group. The Group is funded through the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program.

The staff member convinced Laurel that she had a lot of people in her corner to help her through. Thanks to that conversation, Laurel decided to continue her studies. She received her diploma and today she is the proud owner of her own business, Life Design Concepts. She uses her job coaching and career assessment skills to help other students navigate their education path and transition into the workforce.

Laurel is thankful for everything the Tribal Council did for her.“It’s been a rewarding experience and journey, and now I can give back to others who want to change their life and educate themselves.”

Her advice to others: “Be bold. Be determined, and don’t give up. There is a spirit of resiliency in each of us. So believe in yourself, achieve your goals, reap the rewards and become the best version of yourself.”

Pursuing a dream through the Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Society

Kaila Thompson always wanted to be a nurse. She had the ambition and the desire. What she really needed was some financial help.

“I wanted to become a nurse as long as I can remember,” says Kaila, a student at Athabasca University. “I knew that I wanted a career where I could work with children, help those in need, and financially support my family.”

Kaila grew up in Stony Plain, Alberta, and was raised by a mom who worked long days. It was Kaila’s job to help care for her younger sister at home. During high school, Kaila discovered her passion for working with children at an after-school daycare job and immediately began pursuing her dream of becoming a pediatric nurse.

Many of Kaila’s family members worked in the healthcare field and were role models. “I grew up knowing that a nursing career was rewarding and something to be proud of,” she says.

Kaila was thrilled when she learned she was accepted to NorQuest College in Edmonton for nursing, but wondered how she would be able to pay for tuition. A school counsellor referred her to the Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Society, a provincial affiliate of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. The Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program funds the Society to deliver services in Edmonton.

“When I first found out that my application with the Society was successful I was so grateful,” says Kaila. Kaila received funding to complete her 2 year diploma and the Society helped place her at Stollery Children’s Hospital. The work experience allowed her to gain practical skills as a nurse, build connections and get a job upon graduation.

Today, she’s working as a licensed practical nurse at Stollery. She is also studying at Athabasca University to become a registered nurse.

Through its continued support, the Society showed Kaila that she was capable of doing anything she set her mind to.

“The Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Society helps so many students pursue their goals. I can never thank them enough!” she says enthusiastically.

“My advice to others is to always take the chance to pursue new skills. It may be difficult at times but it will be worth it in the end. Life is too short to not pursue your dreams and goals.”

A career inspired by a nurse's compassion

If you meet Heather Waloshuk you will learn she is a determined person, driven by compassion to help others and the desire to provide a secure future for her children.

Heather grew up in a public housing development where crime, domestic disturbances and other issues created an unsafe environment for a child. Pregnant at 15, she was living on her own as a single mother at 16. She returned to high school but didn't finish because she became pregnant with her second child, and today she is a mother of 3.

To Heather, her early life is not a story of struggle; it was just life.

"When I found out I was pregnant, my mother asked, 'What are you going to do next—how are you going to finish school?' It wasn't a big pity party. You focus on what comes next and you keep moving forward. Having that attitude instilled in me really helped combat any obstacle that has come my way."

Going to university was never in doubt. Her mother had done it. "It was pretty simple for me to understand that it was going to happen." For Heather, giving up was never an option. "To give up meant that I wasn't giving my children a good life. That was the scariest thing in the world to me. I would do anything to avoid that."

In addition to her mother, Heather had a second mentor and role model: the community health nurse who guided her through 2 pregnancies. "Her influence was important. She treated us with dignity and respect—as young parents, not teenagers who got pregnant. She inspired me to go into nursing. I still draw from the experience 12 years ago."

Heather was accepted into the University of Manitoba's Access program, which prepared her for the nursing program. She was one of 13 Indigenous students with similar backgrounds who took classes together and supported each other in school and with family and personal issues.

The group was split up when they entered the main nursing program. When Heather and a couple of friends noticed some of the group were dropping out because they could not cope with school and other issues, they formed a "circle of support." They held monthly meetings to share experiences and update each other on life events. If someone had a personal or family issue, the group would find a way to help.

Today Heather is a public health nurse with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. She demonstrates that same determination and compassion that helped her succeed as a student and single parent. She spends her day in the St. James community following her mentor's example. Among her long list of responsibilities is helping new mothers with post-partum care and facilitating parenting groups. She also works to manage food-borne illnesses and track down the origins of communicable diseases in her community.

An Indigenous carpenter pursues a new passion

By becoming a home inspector in his 50s, Gerald Speers demonstrates that it’s never too late to pursue your passion.

The former carpenter from Renfrew, Ontario, received support through the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP). The organization works in partnership with the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) Program, designing and delivering job training services for Indigenous people in urban, rural and remote areas.

Before the training, Gerald was off work receiving a disability allowance as he recovered from painful and disabling injuries. “The atmosphere in the house was cloudy, always raining doubt and depression,” says Gerald. “It felt like my life was stagnant and not growing.”

Switching professions was the only option. “I was recovering and needed to get back out there and be a contributor,” explains Gerald. Over the years, Gerald had tried hard to become a home inspector but had not succeeded. “It was very difficult to get a job at my age and with my disability. I needed assistance if my dream of becoming a home inspector was going to become a reality.”

When Gerald walked into the CAP office he was welcomed by Matthew, who sat with him and listened to his story. “I had such a positive experience,” says Gerald. “Matthew assured me that they had a skills training program just for me.”

Gerald was accepted into the program and is thrilled that his dream has become a reality. “My self-confidence shot out of my chest like a cannon,” he explains. “I could regain my role as the family income provider.”

Gerald is enjoying his new career as a certified home inspector. He helps clients ensure the house they are living in or buying is safe by inspecting for structural defects, fire hazards or other threats.

Gerald has endless plans. “My next plan is to up-skill and do home energy audits, learn about the inspection of septic systems, and the list goes on.” CAP staff have become like family to Gerald and he feels comfortable returning to them to ask for help.

A life-changing opportunity for a young Indigenous man

Adrian Koskie was born in Regina but grew up in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. As a teen, he developed an interest in metalwork and wanted to pursue a career in welding. However, Adrian’s life took a dark turn after high school. For 10 years, he lived on the streets of Vancouver, struggling with addiction.

Fortunately, Adrian was able to overcome his addiction and get off the streets. After 2 years of being sober, he was ready to do something with his life. But a lack of work experience, skills and education left him feeling like he had no real direction. Then a life-changing opportunity came his way at just the right time. Adrian reconnected with a childhood friend through Facebook. The friend had become a coordinator for a trades program called BladeRunners. The program was delivered by Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS).

ACCESS designs and delivers job-training services to Indigenous people in Vancouver. The Government of Canada provides funding to ACCESS through the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program. Adrian’s friend encouraged him to enroll in the program. The program would allow him to get the education he needed to enter the workforce.

Adrian first got work experience through the BladeRunners program. Then he took a welding course through the ACCESS Trades program and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. ACCESS Trades signed Adrian up as an apprentice and supported him through his welding apprenticeship. He began working on revitalization projects for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. With continued support from ACCESS, Adrian got his level C and level B welding certificates. Today, Adrian is a full-time welder and is working to obtain his Red Seal certification.

His advice to anyone pursuing their desired career: “Don’t give up, stick with it, and it will make all the difference.”

Determined to succeed, one step at a time

Shana Mann faced multiple barriers as a young mom in Winnipeg. She wanted a better life for herself and her daughter, but didn’t know where to start. Then she learned that her cousin had completed the medical lab assistant program. This program was offered through the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development (CAHRD). She decided to try to enter the same program. CAHRD receives funding from the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program.

Before she could enter the lab assistant program, Shana needed to get her mature student high school diploma. The staff of CAHRD helped her to do this. Shana graduated as a medical lab assistant. She got a job at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, where she worked for 3 years. Shana then returned to school again to study microbiology at the University of Manitoba. Today she is finishing her Bachelor of Science.

Shana says she is thankful to CAHRD for investing in her education. She feels confident and optimistic as a result of their support. “I encourage women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or any career that requires post-secondary education. We must lead by example to show others that dreams are attainable.”

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