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Nisga'a Nation, First Nations add skills for work on Northwest Transmission Line

A Gitxsan Nation student (right) in the field learns chainsaw maintenance and cutting techniques while being supervised.

Posted by Michelle Martin

The approximately 344-kilometre Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) project is being trumpeted for the economic opportunities it will bring to a struggling regional economy that has been hard-hit by the downturn in the forestry sector.

But who, specifically, will be benefiting from the 280 direct jobs per construction year and even more spinoff employment opportunities?

Part of the answer lies within the Aboriginal communities in the region. By the time construction of NTL begins in the spring of 2011, approximately 150 Aboriginal people will have been trained up to be "shovel ready."

The boot camps

BC Hydro is facilitating training boot camps for Nisga'a Nation and six first Nations to ensure their members have the skills to help build the 287-kilovolt, approximately 344-kilometre publicly owned transmission line from Skeena Substation (near Terrace) to Bob Quinn Lake.

Delivered in partnership with Northwest Community College (NWCC), the boot camps run between three and five weeks and include a plethora of course options. Of the four successful boot camps to date, two were with the Kitsumkalum First Nation (one was on the supply chain, and included such courses as Food Safe, Customer Service and Serving it Right, to potentially service construction camps), one with the Kitselas First Nation and the most recent with the Gitxsan Nation.

Each of the 77 program graduates have typically earned between 17 and 19 certifications in such areas as hazardous materials, fire suppression, radio operation, chainsaw safety, bear awareness, driving, occupational first aid, environmental monitoring, helicopter safety, environmental and spill management, among other safety-related courses.

Community voices

BC Hydro has heard overwhelming positive feedback from the local program coordinators in the communities that have already held boot camps.

Laura Miller, Kitsumkalum Program Coordinator, noticed the camaraderie among the 18 participants.

"They all look forward to the Northwest Transmission Line proceeding because they know there will be more employment and experience gained," she said, noting that 14 are already happily employed – many as a direct result of the training – and one went on to college.

Roger Leclerc, Manager of Kitselas Development Corporation, said the boot camp created a real buzz in the 400-member First Nations community.

"The community was behind all those students – 70 people showed up to their graduation," he said. "Several of the 22 program participants have found work or are continuing their education, and they're all wondering when the NTL will start construction so they can start work."

Chasity Shanoss, NTL Gitxsan Community Coordinator, said, "During the boot camp new friendships were made, old ones re-kindled, and a lot of fun and laughter was heard throughout the classroom.

"The 19 participants are very excited to begin work; a couple of them have found employment with the help of the new additions to their resume and the boot camp inspired two participants to further their education, as they went off to take the Mining Exploration Field Assistant program at NWCC."

Looking ahead

Several more camps this fall and winter with Nisga'a Nation and First Nations are, too, expected to produce a quality pool of trained and capable workers within those communities.

For BC Hydro, the program is an example of our organization's commitment to ensuring that the opportunities arising from NTL are flowing to Aboriginal communities along the corridor. It's also a great example of relationship and capacity building as it helps the community members build retainable skills.

Between now and the start of the first full construction season for NTL, expected in spring of 2011, BC Hydro is also looking to help co-sponsor individuals for some more specific training, such as heavy equipment operation or environmental assessment training.

Michelle Martin works with BC Hydro's Employee Communications department.