A new preparatory trades program for Indigenous women will end with the construction of a new greenhouse to be presented to Kaw Tay Whee School in Dettah this month, but what those involved are celebrating most is the introduction of new Northerners into the field.
The program, funded by the Skills Partnership Fund of the Government of Canada, has seen seven novice students getting practical, hands-on training with the building of a greenhouse at Kasteel Construction over 11 weeks since January.
Offered through the Mine Training Society, the training focuses on the basics of the trades, including electrical, plumbing and mechanical.
Two participants in the course – Karla Diener and Dezerae Jonasson – said that the weeks of work have flown by and that they have enjoyed the all-female atmosphere.
“I just liked that it was an all women’s course because I think it would be intimidating working with some men,” said Diener.
“And more competitive,” Jonasson added. “Here it is much more easy-going.”
Both said they found the hands-on work welcoming after noticing an advertisement for the course last year.
Diener said she wants to use what she has learned to establish a career where she can build furniture while Jonasson wants to become a heavy equipment operator.
Trevor Kasteel, owner of Kasteel Construction, gave a walking tour of his site on March 5 as the women were about 10 days from completion of the structure.
“It has been really, really awesome,” Kasteel said, beaming. “These ladies feel safe and they feel accepted and have smiles on their faces with the music going.”
Kasteel got involved with the project through the Mine Training Society late last year, as the two parties signed a memorandum of understanding for program delivery in November. Since then, he prepared a hands-on training site to house the greenhouse and an attached upstairs classroom for theory and instruction.
“We have it so that one half of the class will be in the classroom in the morning and the other half will be building,” he said. “Then they switch out and vice-versa in the afternoon.”
The classroom itself is surrounded by four monitors that project various angles from the work-floor, where the implementation of what is learned can be reviewed.
The students started coming to class in early January and have been working five days a week. During the first two weeks, the women came in with little to no experience and entered a “boot camp” period where they attained fall protection harness certification and other safety knowledge to get them prepared, Kasteel explained.
“We then started the build (of the greenhouse) in about the third week of January,” he said.
Steven Daniel, senior instructor and contractor who specializes in designing STEM-related curriculum, oversaw the delivery of the course. He said he’s been impressed with how the students have “gelled” and taken to his vision.
“Not only have they learned a lot about the construction business, but it has been beneficial just for their overall self-esteem and their ability to take on new challenges,” he said. “They don’t back down from things. It’s been fantastic.”
As student Darian Black was working on the roof in a harness, Daniel commented on her evolution as but one example.
“Darian was timid to use a hammer on day one, and told us she was scared of heights and now she’s using power nailers and you can see she’s up on the roof,” Daniel said, chuckling.
Daniel said he attempted to build interest in the participants from the beginning, introducing the program as a relatable “problem to solve.”
“From day one we had the girls designing what their dream cabin would be with the idea that it would be totally open book but that we would have to solve that problem by looking at the math and science behind it,” he said.
Kasteel said he aims to build Northern skill capacity in the trades through his construction company, including through this most recent program. However, he said this means ensuring that the work setting is comfortable for those just entering the field.
“First and foremost is that if you really want to try to set these women up for success, they need to feel valued, they need to feel safe and they need to feel accepted,” he said.
“You then have a lot better chance of actually having them enjoy themselves, actually learning and absorbing the material because of the warm environment where they feel comfortable and secure.”
Kasteel said one never really knows the backgrounds or life experiences of people entering the program, but if they can be supported in the right way, anyone can help the Northern trades industry’s overall goal of having NWT residents involved.
“It’s really important that Northerners can train Northerners but on top of that, that Northerners grow,” he said. ”That’s really the focus because we don’t want people coming up from the south, training and then leaving.”
The greenhouse was built on skids and is worth about $200,000 in value. It’s expected to be delivered by ice road to Dettah during the third week of March.
Wayne Guy, principal of Guy Architects, said he was pleased with the outcome of his firm’s participation in the project, which involved solidifying the specific details of the greenhouse design. This included the structural, architectural, electrical and mechanical drawings.
“The greenhouse was really seen as a prototype that could be used as a work project for women as well as to acquire new skills in framing, roofing, flooring and basic window or door hanging,” Guy said.
It was also designed to serve any Northern community for the use of food production, he added.
“Given that it is a building to be moved and skidded onto a truck and delivered anywhere in the NWT, it was discussed that it would be perfect for food security where modules could go to a community and help grow produce in the summer and reduce cost of living for fresh greens in smaller communities,” he said.
Some of the unique elements of the design were still to be installed as of March 5, including solar panels, batteries, an inverter and a gravity-fed water tank.
Iris Catholique, board chair of the Mine Training Society, said she was pleased with how the program has progressed as it is important that her organization can enter agreements with industry to help remove employment barriers facing women and young people.
“This is the first program that has been in-class since Covid has hit because we have had to spend a lot of focus on all of the public health restrictions,” Catholique said. “We have a smaller class size for appropriate social distancing with instructors and students. We have ensured that hygiene and checks and balances are in place strictly so that students can focus on their training abilities.”