(Reprinted from the Edmonton Journal)
Photograph by: Jason Franson , Edmonton Journal
Richard Thompson 54, graduated from Trade Winds to Success, an Aboriginal pre-apprenticeship training program, and is now a pre-apprentice plumber at Arpi's North.
EDMONTON - Richard Thompson built and maintained communications towers in Alberta and Saskatchewan for over 20 years and decided, at age 54, that he needed a career change.
A family man with five adult children and six grandchildren, Thompson wanted to be closer to them.
“That kind of work takes you away a lot. I want to be with my family,” said Thompson, who chose to pursue a plumbing trade and now lives in Edmonton.
“I have a lot of practical experience, helping installing toilets, doing odd jobs like that,” he said.
Thompson is Cree of the Sweetgrass First Nation and heard about Trade Winds to Success through his band office.
Open to Métis, Inuit and First Nations people of Alberta, the 16-week Trade Winds to Success program offered in Edmonton is an aboriginal pre-apprenticeship training program that provides the skills and knowledge to start a career in several trades. It helps participants make informed career decisions, provides academic upgrading, as well as theory and skill training and safety skills.
The final eight to 10 weeks of the program are spent in union shop training with some protective equipment and starter tools provided.
Income support for living expenses during the program is available through Oteenow Employment and Training Society and Rupertsland Institute Métis Centre of Excellence in Edmonton.
“There is an application process that can take a couple of weeks, but successful candidates can then enter the Trade Winds to Success program knowing that some of their living expenses are taken care of,” said Roxanne Hall, manager of Rupertsland Institute training to employment services for central Alberta.
Executive Director Deborah Munroe of Trade Winds to Success has been with the program from the beginning in 2005. Since the first participants in 2006, 589 people have completed the program, 545 of whom have gained meaningful employment, representing a 92.5 per cent employment success rate.
Approximately 80 to 100 students go through the program every year, with 17 students currently in progress.
“This program is incredible,” said Munroe. “We’ve helped so many people. We have such high success rate largely due to partnerships. We get participants through the program, but employment occurs because of partnership with unions and industry who support the program.”
Martyn Piper has been chair of the Trade Winds to Success board since its inception and is also the executive secretary treasurer of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers.
“The Trade Winds pre-apprenticeship program is great for industry. Employers are not just taking people from an obscure location, but from a proper program that insures prospective employees have the basic requirements for a workplace environment, especially safety,” said Piper.
At the end of his 16-week program in August 2012, Thompson said the instructor mentioned a prospective employer to him.
“I checked it out, and got a job immediately.”
Thompson is now pre-apprenticing at Arpi’s North to enter his first-year apprenticeship as a plumber. He earns $19.85 per hour, which is expected to double when he is a journeyman in four years.
Thompson will be 58 when he completes his apprenticeship but he does not perceive that as a barrier.
“I’ve worked hard all my life. I have skills from my previous work that are important like thinking problems through. I am not green and my employer seems to like that.”
Desmond Thomas, 29, is another graduate of the Trade Winds to Success program. Thomas spent seven years working at casual construction while struggling with drug and alcohol addiction until he was 26.
“After seven years of working, I realized I wanted more than a job, I wanted a career,” said Thomas, of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.
With help of Poundmaker’s Lodge Treatment Centre in Edmonton, he has been drug and alcohol free for almost three years. A Poundmaker’s counsellor recommended the Trade Winds to Success program to Thomas, who started the program in 2011 and received living expenses from Oteenow.
“I couldn’t have done it without their help. I had to pay rent in a recovery house. The last four weeks of the course, Trade Winds provided additional financial support to ensure I could finish the course.”
Thomas is now a second-year apprentice pipefitter with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 488 working with a fabrication facility in Edmonton since June 2011.
“The fabrication shop is teaching a lot about my trade. I work with men and women where safety comes first. I have a lot of great mentors. I’d like to go up the ladder a bit over time,” he said.
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