TRU developing new essential skills training program

Thompson Rivers University is developing a program that features new ways to teach essential skills.

Tara Sprickerhoff

Tribune Staff Writer


Thompson Rivers University is developing a program that features new ways to teach essential skills to those in the forestry, manufacturing, construction and mining sectors as well as First Nation bands around the area.

The Cariboo Chilcotin Skills Training program is a new initiative put on by TRU with funding from the Labour Market Agreements. The program is built to teach participants essential skills through programming that is interesting, useful and doesn’t feel like school.

There are nine essential skills that people need for their everyday life and work, explained one of the co-ordinators for the program, Betty Turatus.

The most common ones are reading, document use, writing, numeracy and computer use, she continued.  The other essential skills include oral communication, thinking skills, working with others and continuous learning.

“Take a heavy equipment operator at Tolko that is driving the loader. You would not think that reading text would be one of the top essential skills for them, but it is. Document use is the second, and numeracy is another one, because with that particular job, even though that person is driving all day he has to be able to read, he has to be able to do his recheck of his machinery, he may have to check in on a time sheet, and he has to know the formula of what he can carry in his grapple in order to not tip over his machine,” said Turatus.

“For employers, people that increase their essential skills, their very basic essential skills, reduces the accidents that happen because they can actually read the safety posters or bulletins,” continued Turatus. She also explained that teaching essential skills reduces company loss because it teaches numeracy for counting money back, or document use to fill out ordering forms correctly.

Unique to this program is the way the university will go about teaching the essential skills.

The first step, said Turatus, is to talk with the organization or the band about what essential skills they want their workers to learn. Second, Turatus or other co-ordinators will talk with the workers individually and ask them what they want out of the program.

“It could be that they just all want to have their Grade 12,” said Turatus, adding that many other people in the program are working to obtain their safety certificates.

After having worked out the needs of both the organization and the participants, co-ordinators find ways of ensuring that what the participant wants to do or learn will teach essential skills as well.

“It is perhaps something like a hockey camp,” said Turatus. “Because at a hockey camp you have to work with others, there’s going to be theory in it so you have to do reading, writing. There may be numbers in there, you have to learn how to schedule things. We take something that is important to them, that they see as relevant and put the essential skills into it.”

Turatus also explained that things like a nutrition and cooking course can help increase the essential skills because it requires participants to use computers to look up or type recipes, it teaches numeracy for measuring and literacy in order to read a recipe.

“A lot of people who have low essential skills probably did not have a good school experience for whatever reason,” she said. “We try to find ways to do this essential skills training that will be interesting and relevant to the student.”

Participants must be working or have not been on employment insurance during the past three years  as well as have low essential skills determined by an assessment to qualify for the program.

After determining if someone is eligible to participate, coordinators work individually with that person to develop a training plan. Participants must commit to 200 hours of training, which may seem like a lot, said Turatus, but each individual plan is scheduled to fit around work and family lives.

“It’s all about the participant. It’s about their schedule, its about what they need and its about what they want and how best we can get it for them,” she said. Those interested in seeing if they are eligible for the program are invited to call the grants office at TRU at 250-392-8057.