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Preparing the next generation to fill NWT labour gaps


Liam Carroll, a St. Patrick High School student, is looking ahead to Grade 12 with hopes of filling future construction needs in the Northwest Territories.

St. Pat's student Liam Carroll, who's enrolled in the Schools North Apprenticeship Program, has been working with Kasteel Construction since April and he's excited about a potential career in the trades.

Since about the March Break, he has gotten a better sense of the personal fulfillment the field may bring him as he is working as a full-time labourer with Kasteel Construction through the school's Schools North Apprenticeship Program (SNAP).

This week Carroll came off of painting and sanding tasks at the new home being built in the lot where the Debogorski house stood on 51A Avenue. Now he is excitedly moving on to the city hall exterior stairs project, also contracted to Kasteel.

"I think it was probably in Grade 10 when I first started getting into it (construction) and I was doing full-time construction class and I found I really enjoyed it," he said. "My job with Kasteel is just awesome. I think it is just because of all of the stuff that I am learning and the fact that they took me under their wing and I'm learning about construction."

Looking ahead, he' aiming to build on his experience with Kasteel and enter trades school at Aurora College in Fort Smith within the next couple of years.

Much of Carroll's interest can be attributed to the work that the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) has been doing in recent years to match the interests of high school students with job prospects much in demand over the next decade.

Deana Twissell, director of advanced education and student transition with ECE, oversees six "career and education advisers" who are assigned to visit every high school in the NWT to help students discover fields of employment they may be interested in. Their job is to try to ensure that students' personal and professional interests are identified and aligned with future job demands.

Twissell's position and the approach with the career and education advisers was initiated following the 2016 labour market review by the Conference Board of Canada. That review found that 78 per cent of Northwest Territories jobs in the next 15 years will require a post-secondary education. What's more, the review determined that there's a vast array of job openings that have to be filled including teachers, nurses and medical professionals, various trades, accountants, miners and tourism workers.

On top of those, there are also supportive industries for airlines, small business providers and expediters, she said. 

Steve Payne, a career and education adviser with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, consults with students Lucy Ann Okeena, centre, and Alexandria Banksland. The two students are pictured at Helen Kalvak School in Ulukhaktok in September 2019.
photo courtesy of Simone Goudreau

"Every community is going to be in need of these types of workers," Twissell said. "We have a big job ahead of us in terms of educating our youth for the future work force that, many of which, will require higher-level education. So we have to get to our youth and into our schools and educate them on all important opportunities."

ECE obtained funding for the six adviser positions and to start a pilot project for six career and education advisers in 2018-19 to help two groups of students – those from grades 9-12 and "youth" ages of 18-24.

Twissell said the advisers are similar to guidance counsellors, but they don't delve into mental health assistance or course planning.

Overcoming Covid-19 uncertainty

This year was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic in March and meant that remote consultations with schools replaced extensive travel. It also means that there is added uncertainty about the future labour market.

"As it relates to Covid-19, what we have been doing with students and preparing them for is a future that is unknown," said Simone Goudreau, one of the advisers that works under Twissell. "The pandemic has brought it all to the forefront. They are in the midst of a real life experience that might have taken years or lapsed over years. It is all now happening at once.

"Jobs that once existed now don't exist, and new jobs are being formed with new challenges and uncertainty and we can't count on things anymore. That is the reality that students are moving into and the pandemic has only sped things up in that way," she added.

Workers were spotted toiling on the city hall exterior stairs project on Tuesday. Liam Carroll, a St. Patrick High School student, is working with Kasteel Construction on developing his construction experience, including hands-on experience with this project. 
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Goudreau explained that part of the role is inspiring students to be optimistic about the future, to find those traits that motivate them in everyday life and to identify career opportunities that might match those interests. This method is often more fruitful than just expecting students to come up with specific job titles and roles they want to fill, she said.

"One of the things we have  been working on is helping to adjust thinking (among students) away from trying to come up with a job title – as in 'what are you going to be when you grow up,'" she explained. "That is not really the right question to ponder. The better question to ponder is what problems and challenges are there to work with and opportunities to work with."

Goudreau said that a case like Carroll's is promising because it identifies trades interest early in a student's career and it helps with retaining Northern workers for the North.

"We really want to clear up misconception around the trades because there still is some stigma (around) things like apprenticeships," she said. "University is still seen as a golden ticket, but it is only a golden ticket for some people. We want to promote post-secondary, college, university or apprenticeship."

Kasteel Construction is in the midst of completing a home build on the former lot of the Andrew Debogorski home on 51A Avenue. "I know that I won't be jobless with construction and there will be lots of opportunities," says student Liam Carroll, who's been getting exposure to the trade through Kasteel.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

My Blueprint

Currently, career and education advisers are encouraging students to sign up for an online career development platform called My Blueprint. It's one-stop resource that allows students to explore career options, set career plans and goals, keep a personal portfolio and track their marks.

ECE estimates there are more than 2,000 students across the territory working with career and education advisers through this platform.

"The most exciting thing is the excitement in the students and we have so many testimonials from educators, principals, and parents," Twissell said.

So far, the work by ECE seems to be working from Carroll's perspective.

"My adviser, Steve Payne, was awesome and was very up to date and knew exactly what was going on and helped me put together a plan," Caroll said, noting setting out a plan, thinking about why construction was the best fit and meeting the employer were important steps. "He made it easier for me than going out on my own and finding a job.

"I know that I won't be jobless with construction and there will be lots of opportunities."