Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake has received a hefty financial boost in the arm from government.
Last Wednesday Minister of Tourism, Jobs and Skills Training Pat Bell and Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett were in Williams Lake to announce more than $1 million of new funding for TRU North.
Funded through the Canadian British Columbia Labour Market Agreement, the Cariboo Chilcotin Skills Training project will provide First Nations communities and local employers with group literacy and essential skills level assessment.
The assessments will help determine training needs.
Beginning April 4 students will be accepted into the program, Barnett said.
She commended TRU for taking the leadership in developing training programs for the region.
Bell said he believes the future of B.C. as a whole is dependent on how the province works collectively and collaboratively with First Nations in training for specific industrial sectors. It is known there is going to be an enormous crunch over the next number of years in those sectors.
First Nations continue to face high levels of unemployment in their communities, while at the same time non-Aboriginal communities have prospered, he said, adding that’s “not acceptable” in the 21st century and wasn’t acceptable previously.
The funding is a step toward making efforts to provide additional training and efforts, he said.
“If you look at the economy across B.C., we expect in the next seven years there will be about one million job openings.”
At the same period of time there will be an estimated 650,000 high school graduates, creating an “enormous gap,” Bell said.
Of the million job openings, approximately 430,000 are going to be trades or technical.
“The jobs will often be located in rural areas and extend opportunities into small First Nations communities,” Bell said, adding it is government’s responsibility to provide training for everyone to participate in the economy.
Canoe Creek/Dog Creek Chief Dave Archie said it’s great to have more options for training and education for all First Nations and all people in the Cariboo.
“I’m looking forward to building this partnership and many more. As Northern Shuswap we want the same opportunities to work and provide for our families, not only in working, but in our traditional ways, ensuring those ways are here for our future generations.”
First Nations want to be on the same playing field that other Canadians new and old enjoy, Archie said.
“We look forward to creating partnerships with all levels of government,” he said, adding education is an important foundation for everyone.
Campus director Dr. Ray Sanders thanked the government for its trust in TRU to deliver programs.
“We have great needs and the education levels, even for entry level jobs, has risen to a point that it’s not longer acceptable to take someone who might or might not been a drop out or someone who has low literacy skills,” Sanders said.
In today’s world people have to be able to use documents, be literate not only with the written word, but with numeracy.
“This contract will allow us to enable more people to have better lives. That’s what it’s all about.
TRU is wonderful with great potential, but the university should never lose sight of its purpose to helping individuals have better lives, he added.
The university’s grant writer Shirley-Pat Chamberlain said without industry participation none of the training could go ahead.
“We can do all of the essential skills training we want, but if there is no relation or connection to the real world, what’s the point,” Chamberlin said.
Aboriginal education executive director Nathan Matthews said he and others involved in First Nations education wait for announcements like this one.
“We look forward to build a stronger base for First Nations to gain the strength needed in First Nations communities,” he said.