Skills training in B.C. received a blow this week after the federal government announced Friday it has cut Skills Partnership Agreement funding to the Aboriginal Mentoring and Training Association (AMTA).
The cut has forced the program’s closure, AMTA’s founding executive director Laurie Sterritt said.
“This left us with no choice but to close our doors,” she told the Tribune.
AMTA began its journey in late 2009, and by the time Sterritt had put a plan in place and hired staff it was spring of 2010.
Twenty-one employees, including four in Williams Lake, will lose their jobs because of the closure.
“The number of candidates impacted is in the hundreds who will be cut off immediately,” she said, of programs scheduled to begin in November.
An ongoing intake for the Pathways to Success program in Williams Lake will cut off another dozen candidates.
Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said the cancellation is a disaster for First Nations, the region and B.C. overall.
“Several people in our community have gone through the program and got jobs in mining and heavy duty mechanics,” Louie said. “Both Gibraltar and Mount Polley have constantly said they need workers.”
When contacted Tuesday, Cariboo-Prince George MP Dick Harris said he wasn’t aware of the funding cut, but called back Wednesday after speaking with Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt’s office.
The program’s funding is being discontinued for two reasons, Harris explained.
“Natural resource development has ground to a pretty slow pace except in forestry and many industry proponents have promised to provide training programs to people living in the region.”
Harris suggested it’s not that a training program is being discontinued with the closing of AMTA, but instead the onus of providing training to local people within regions where companies are developing industries has been transferred to companies.
Sterritt said more than 350 companies are in AMTA’s network, with active participation from companies like Gibraltar Mines, Teck Resources all over the province, New Gold, Acres Construction in the Thompson Okanagan and Summit Camps.
Taseko Mines Ltd. vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison confirmed Gibraltar has worked closely with the program.
“We provided an office space in our Williams Lake office for AMTA, we provided transportation for candidates and have hired numerous students, who we found all to be capable and keen,” Battison said, adding those employment training opportunities probably would not have happened without AMTA.
According to Sterritt there has been a trend pressuring not-for-profit organizations in Canada.
“We have been absolutely committed to moving the dial on the skills gap and we have really engaged with First Nations across the province and with the resource sector communities and making a difference,” Sterritt said, explaining the model they’ve created is in such close alignment with federal and provincial government plans to grow the economy through tapping into that aboriginal potential work force.
“It’s very hard to let it go for sure but we know we’ve followed through with our commitments.”
All layoffs will be completed by Nov. 28, she confirmed.