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Seven carpentry apprentices from Gitxsan villages were almost done their Level 1 training at the Hazelton campus of Coast Mountain College when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That’s when their employer sponsor, Gitxsan Development Corporation (GDC) tested the strength of its Skills and Training Program and ensured the students stayed on their educational path to complete the training. 

GDC had already been supporting students to complete Level 1, but when physical distancing became a requirement, GDC and Coast Mountain College assessed each student’s needs and created individual training plans. The instructor, Steve Kern and Jeneen Woods—the GDC manager who provides support to students—worked with students to make sure they understood the remaining assignments and what was required to complete them. While the students were physically distanced from each other, they were still connected, supported, and expected to complete the program.

“Steve and Coast Mountain College were great throughout the whole process,” said Jeneen. “In the last couple of weeks, students were emailed quizzes and assignments with a deadline to complete them at home and then send them to Steve. If they couldn’t email the completed work, he met them at a designated spot to safely pick up hard copies.”

“The collaboration between Coast Mountain College and GDC is a great demonstration of a creative approach to trades training during unprecedented times,” said Michael Cameron, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at Industry Training Authority (ITA). “It’s an alternative to face-to-face and online learning and has allowed the students to complete their leveled training in a way that they were comfortable with.”  

Jeneen also contacted each student to see if there were any barriers she could help with. If Steve couldn’t connect with them, she’d follow up with them directly by phone, text, and/or email. Jeneen even offered to pick up completed assignments from students and deliver them to Steve.

“We believe that the students are more likely to succeed if they know we are behind them and pulling for them to succeed,” said Kelsey Harmse, Director of Strategic Initiatives at GDC. 

And the carpentry apprentices are definitely heading towards success. All of them finished the Level 1 program in early April and are proud to be on their trades journey. 

“Believe in yourself,” said George Eaton, one of the Level 1 apprentices. “This course is the beginning of my career as a Red Seal carpenter. It’s amazing and fun to be a student in this program. I’m living the dream.” 

Another apprentice, Keano David said his wife encouraged him to take the carpentry program. “It feels good to go back to school and learn,” he said. “I think more employers will hire you if you have the right education. The things I’m learning now will help me with work over the next five years.” 

The Carpentry Level 1 program is the first trades training to be completed under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ITA and GDC signed in November 2019. The MOU allows GDC to sponsor apprentices working on local projects,  supporting them to achieve their Red Seal and ensuring meaningful employment for their communities.

“Trades training is a large part of preparing community members for economic opportunities as well providing in-community skilled individuals for projects on and off reserve,” said Kelsey. “We want apprentices to develop practical work experience as well as earn classroom certifications. Our goal is to provide opportunities that blend classroom learning and hands-on learning that prepare students for real-life work.”

Scarllette Guno, the only woman among her fellow apprentices, knows her journey to get her Red Seal is just beginning, and she’s eager to learn. She believes Indigenous people shouldn’t give up on their dreams. 

“If it’s in the back of your brain to check out something, do it,” said Scarllette. “Jump in with both feet and never give up. It’s tough and challenging, but go for it because you can do it—I did, and so can you. Never give up on your dreams, even if they seem impossible. They are always possible.”


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