BRIDGES, a new youth employment program: (L to R): Dr. Rachelle Hole (Researcher, UBCO), Brenda Baptiste (BRIDGES Program Manager), Pauline Terbasket (ONA Executive Director), MLA Linda Larsen, Chief Clarence Louie (Osoyoos Indian Band).

BRIDGES, a new youth employment program: (L to R): Dr. Rachelle Hole (Researcher, UBCO), Brenda Baptiste (BRIDGES Program Manager), Pauline Terbasket (ONA Executive Director), MLA Linda Larsen, Chief Clarence Louie (Osoyoos Indian Band).

ONA program to bridge gap for aboriginal youth

A new youth employment program is aimed at helping remove barriers to work for aboriginal youth

The Okanagan Nation Alliance is moving forward with an initiative to help youth find employment in what’s being called a first-of-its-kind project, working with the provincial government.

The province is providing the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) with $1.97 million to help aboriginal youth deal with multiple barriers to employment, helping them to find work through a unique experience that is rich in culture and heritage.

Called BRIDGES (Building Resources for Innovative Development, Growth and Economic Stability) the program is also in partnership with the University of British Columbia-Okanagan and will provide individualized employment services to 140 Okanagan (Syilx) Aboriginal youth, aged 15 to 30 years. It will focus on their First Nations heritage in a culturally rich, on-the-land experience. The goal is to break down systemic barriers to employment for aboriginal youth and to find new and innovative ways to help them join the labour market.

“The BRIDGES project provides educational and training opportunities for our nation to assert and lead in the development of innovative projects such as this that have meaning for our people,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Okanagan Nation Alliance.”They are culturally appropriate, which is key in moving forward. This pre-employment youth strategy project will advance the needed changes in current youth employment programs that do not serve our youth as successfully as they should. We are certain that by utilizing and incorporating Syilx Indigenous knowledge and practices as a basis to this project it will lead to greater success for our youth.”

Under the program youth will get the support of First Nations elders to learn about their heritage, as well as employment mentors who will identify barriers each individual faces and work to help them move past those barriers. When they are ready, participants will enter job placements with local employers in a field of their choice, with the support of the BRIDGES team to help them reach their goals.

The program took root after a 2012 study by the Industry Training Authority entitled Barriers and Successful Approaches to Preparing and Employing Aboriginal Trades People. The study stressed the need for innovation at the grassroots, community level to address obstacles holding back potential workers and to help solve the gaps and barriers that prevent aboriginal youth from accessing training programs. These gaps and barriers include educational prerequisites, employment readiness, access to transportation and funding for training, as well as employer willingness to sponsor apprentices.

“I firmly believe every native person needs to be in a good-paying job,” said Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band. “Jobs are a big part of a healthy lifestyle. First Nations societies come from a working culture, where every person worked and contributed to their community. I want my people to have opportunity, which BRIDGES is providing. This is another step for my people to be self-sufficient.”

The three-year project will end with a final report on its findings, a plan to address low labour-market participation, and a summary of how the approach to employment services can be made into a template for other Aboriginal communities to address their own youth employment needs.

Its employment and educational outcomes will be put side by side with a group of clients of similar age and background to compare results and find best practices for offering employment services to aboriginal youth who face multiple barriers to employment.

Funding for the project is provided through the Research and Innovation (R&I) stream of the Community and Employer Partnerships program.

The R&I stream provides funding for time-limited, research-oriented projects that put forward untried and untested approaches to labour-market problems that improve upon current ways of helping people prepare for, obtain or maintain employment and help move more clients into sustainable jobs.

Community and Employer Partnerships are featured in B.C.’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint and provide more support to people who are struggling to gain a foothold in the job market. These projects build stronger partnerships with industry and labour to connect British Columbians with classroom and on-the-job training, while making it easier for employers to hire the skilled workers they need – when and where they need them.

“BRIDGES is an exciting and innovative way of breaking down barriers and filling skills gaps for young people who face multiple barriers to employment,” said John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. “I’m confident that once this approach of focusing on culture and heritage is used, other First Nations communities will be able to use it as a template toward the success of their own members.”