|Rivers Stonechild, apprentice steel fabricator|
That's where I was at not long ago & why I went back to school, so when I heard Rivers Stonechild's story, I could really relate to it. He's taking advantage of some great programs with ACCESS Trades & the Industry Training Authority (ITA) to retrain as a steel fabricator. I had the pleasure of interviewing him over the weekend. (contest details to follow the interview--don't get impatient!)
Originally from Saskatchewan, Rivers was born in Denver, Colorado, grew up in East Van & now lives in Burnaby. Just over a year ago, he was working at a Downtown Eastside shelter as an emergency weather relief worker, with irregular hours & shifts. With a family--he got married in 2011 & not long after discovered that their three kids were soon to become four--this job just wasn't ideal for him.
Rivers heard about ACCESS Trades, an ITA funded program that supports aboriginal British Columbians to upgrade their skills & retrain for a better life. ACCESS helped fund a living allowance while he was in school, plus tuition & books, tools for entry level positions in trades, as well as public transportation. Rivers says it's this support that made it possible for him to go into the trades: "It would have been really hard for me to sustain my living environment, transportation while I was in school. They even helped a bit with childminding too during summer (daycamps)."
Because he hadn't been in school for over 12 years, returning at age 32 was a little intimidating at the time. However, Rivers knew that upgrading his skills (he did about six months of math, reading skills & document use classes at ESAF) then seeking an apprenticeship was what he wanted to do. He jumped on the opportunity he got through ACCESS & the ITA, not letting his fear hold him back.
Though you might expect his classes to have been full of late teens & early twenty-somethings, Rivers says half the students were his age or older. "As time went on, I became more & more comfortable with that environment. I found it really enjoyable & I really miss being at BCIT. There were a lot of good people, the instructors were great." He also credits the mental, emotional, physical, & spiritual support he got from the aboriginal services on campus for helping him succeed during his five months in the BCIT metal fabrication foundation pre-apprenticeship program. One of the counsellors, Joanne Stone, was really important to Rivers' journey. "It was a special treat to have someone like that in my corner."
Since starting work as an apprentice steel fabricator, Rivers' life has changed in many ways. One of the major things was stability. He went from being a front-line worker where his job was year to year. Working at a shelter in the Downtown Eastside--as is so often the case with non-profit organizations--funding wasn't stable, so he never really had job security. For Rivers, apprenticing a trade like steel fabrication "...was a change for the best. It helped me to change that ability to have some solid work, a solid place where I can earn my Red Seal Journeyman qualification."
In a typical day at work as a fitter, Rivers gets material for journeyman, unloads trucks & equipment, as wells as supplies for around the shop like oxygen for burning. He's currently working at a CNC plasma high definition cutting facility. As an apprentice he's learning on the job: how to run the machines there; all about the material; the way that the people work in the shop.
Having just started his apprenticeship, Rivers has nearly three more years to go but he seemed very optimistic about his future. When I asked his advice for other people thinking about going into the trades, Rivers had this to say: "It's very important to set goals & follow your dreams, without that you never expand your horizons. Put yourself out there--if you don't, you'll never know. Push yourself, don't be afraid."
The Industry Training Authority (ITA) leads and coordinates British Columbia’s skilled trades system. ITA works with employers, employees, industry, labour, training providers and government to issue credentials, manage apprenticeships, set program standards, and increase opportunities in the trades.
ITA is a provincial crown agency and governed by a nine-person Board of Directors, who have skills, experience and qualifications directly related to the trades. ITA was established in 2004.
For more information, visit the ITA website, follow them on Facebook, Twitter & take a look at their other videos on YouTube.
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