Mi'kmaq eye jobs training for 700 on ship deal2/7/2013
The province’s young Mi’kmaq population could prove at least a partial solution to the problem of Nova Scotia’s greying workforce.
The Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office in Membertou plans to use $6 million in federal government money to fund training for about 700 aboriginals across Nova Scotia over the next two years.
The hope is they will be able to tap into $25 billion in warship work going to Irving Shipbuilding.
“There’s a fair number interested,” said Owen Fitzgerald, executive director at Unama’ki, which means Cape Breton in Mi’kmaq.
“It’s one of those demographics where the population is exploding and there’s a lot of people that need work.”
There are about 24,175 people of aboriginal identity in Nova Scotia, most of them Mi’kmaq. That is up 42 per cent since 2001, according to the province’s Office of Aboriginal Affairs, and they are much younger than the general population, with a median age of 25.4 versus 41.6 across the board.
“We have a very valuable workforce to offer Nova Scotia industries,” said Dan Christmas, co-chairman of the Unama’ki steering committee.
“As we begin to see our overall Nova Scotia labour force decline, I think the First Nation population could solve some of the problem.”
Chief Bob Gloade of Millbrook First Nation said unemployment is high in his community of about 1,700 people.
In an effort to change that, 15 young people from Millbrook and Indian Brook are now learning how to become welders in order to get into shipbuilding work, Gloade said.
“Hopefully we can start getting them prepared for that industry and try to get the skill sets in place.”
Fitzgerald is hoping about half the 700 people who get training find jobs.
“They may end up deciding to go back to school. We can’t guarantee everybody jobs in shipbuilding. We’re trying to find the best individuals and provide the best training so Irving and their related companies will get the best workers.”
Ross Langley, vice-chairman of Irving Shipbuilding, said in a news release that he sees “the initiative as a very proactive step to prepare Nova Scotia aboriginals for future employment opportunities within the broader marine industry.”
Langley couldn’t be reached Wednesday for comment.
Unama’ki will co-ordinate training for First Nations right across the whole province rather than giving each of Nova Scotia’s 13 bands the responsibility, Fitzgerald said.
“That’s never really been done before.”
The choice was made, he said, based on Unama’ki’s past successes ensuring Cape Breton’s five First Nations communities got part of the work involved in the $400-million cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds.
“People were amazed at how well it worked out,” Fitzgerald said.
“Dollar-wise, we were able to negotiate some $19 million in set asides. So I think there was around 48 jobs created there for aboriginals.”
More importantly, perhaps, the tar ponds work built confidence in Mi’kmaq outfits, he said.
“Aboriginal companies ended up participating in some $71 million in contracts. That’s huge.”
MB2, Denko Mi’kmaq Enterprises, Norman Morris Construction and Mikjikj, which means turtle in Mi’kmaq, all got tar ponds work, he said.
Most of the new training will take place at the Nova Scotia Community College, Fitzgerald said.
“It’s not just about shipbuilding. Certainly that’s the big opportunity … but it’s also the spinoffs from that.”
Small companies that will lose skilled workers to Irving could be a source of jobs for Mi’kmaq, he said.
“We can do some backfilling there. So that might end up being a big part of the opportunity here.”
He is hoping training also helps Mi’kmaq find work with Emera on the Muskrat Falls hydroelectricity project, the Donkin mine and the Port of Sydney.