Okanagan Indian Band expands employment program
Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) and Okanagan College have put considerable care and attention into ensuring its pre-employment program meets the needs of its members. They know that if individuals succeed, the community as a whole will also benefit.
To help ensure the pre-employment program addresses community needs, OKIB and Okanagan College continually seek input from Band stakeholders, students as well as program alumni. The program was recently expanded to include essential skills training, employability certification and Adult Basic Education through funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Province of BC. As a result, the course curriculum includes not only typical pre-employment training topics such as skills-assessment and resume writing but also workshops that focus on Aboriginal culture, communication skills, financial management, healthy eating and fitness.
OKIB Social Development Worker Cindy Brewer, Okanagan College Program Coordinator Cindy Meissner and lead facilitator Teresa Proudlove designed the pre-employment program to integrate foundational Aboriginal workshops throughout. "We have Social worker Molly Brewer talking to students on topics such as relationships, addictions and anger management that could be potential barriers to employment. Elder Judy Goodsky comes in to facilitate workshops about Aboriginal history and the medicine wheel helping students learn more about their heritage and how to keep themselves in balance" says Proudlove. "Many employment programs miss these critical cultural elements which reinforce students' honour and pride in their culture."
Joshua Edwards, a current student, has found the broad range of topics helpful. The class "got into depth with some of the cultural stuff," he says. "I'm not normally interested in my culture so it was pretty cool to hear about it." Kane Alexis, another student, was surprised at the number of topics that are covered. "I thought it would only be about upgrading education requirements but it was more about developing social skills and gaining all kinds of employable skills."
Jennifer Jack is the recruiter and facilitator from the OKIB office. Her deep knowledge of this close-knit community helps her identify people who would most benefit from this program. Now a proud mother of two, she was once a young woman on welfare without a high-school diploma and few prospects. When she became pregnant, she decided to fight for a second chance. She completed the necessary upgrades and continued on to receive her Human Services Diploma and her degree in social work.
Jennifer uses her journey as an example to keep students motivated. She likes to remind community members that it's never too late. "I barely thought I could earn a diploma, let alone a degree. It was scary but I went back."
Equally important is simply creating an environment where people want to come to class every day. "The program is here at Okanagan Indian Band. That's really fantastic; it makes it easier to get here," Proudlove says. Simply coming to class makes a difference she continues, "What would you be doing if you weren't making a commitment to come to class everyday for five months to focus on your career?"Amber Phelan, a graduate of the program who is now taking Business Administration at Okanagan College agrees. "A lot of students would never come to town to participate in something like this, first of all because of transportation and gas and everything else."
The presence of the classroom in the community also helps reminds people that their friends and family are taking concrete steps towards building a future says Amber. "Having the program here is really cool because it spreads awareness through the community. Parents hear about it and they want their children to do something with their lives. It just opens doors for so many people and gives people a push to do something great."