Youth in the Sahtu need reassurance from the government that they will be able to find work in their communities after graduation through a coordinated education and training plan for the region, says MLA Norman Yakeleya.
The MLA for the Sahtu said the territorial government needs to team up with community leaders in the Sahtu, where the promise of an oil and gas boom could create hundreds of local job opportunities over the next decade with the right preparedness.
“There’s going to be a lot of opportunities in the North through development in the Sahtu,” Yakeleya said.
“Within three years, in the Sahtu we’re going to have about 150 students who are graduating from Grade 12, and we have about 81 students who are in some type of post-secondary training or institution right now in the Sahtu. We need to look at supporting them through the schools, through the post-secondary institutions, and start demanding that the jobs that we have in the Sahtu region – either oil and gas or government – that these students…get on with these jobs.”
While oil companies doing exploratory work in the region have hired dozens of locals, Yakeleya said there is still “a long way to go” in addressing unemployment.
Of approximately 200 workers on site at ConocoPhillips’ exploratory operations in 2013-14, 106 of those were NWT residents: 45 from the Tulita District (including Norman Wells), 20 other Sahtu beneficiaries and 41 non-beneficiaries.
Over $17 million, or 65 per cent, of direct expenditures went to Aboriginal-owned businesses in Tulita and Norman Wells, and $97,000 was spent on training.
Roughly 20 additional workers from Tulita and Norman Wells continue to work for Husky Oil on its road project, with the other 50 per cent coming from other parts of the NWT or the south.
Yakeleya said more needs to be done to ensure local people are hired before people from the south.
“We have more people not working than working,” he said.
Training school study in works: ECE
Laurie Morton, director of labour development for Education, Culture and Employment (ECE), said the department has committed to completing a feasibility study for a Sahtu Regional Institute of Technology within the 2014-15 fiscal year to determine whether such a school would be viable.
The study is taking into account existing education and training facilities and programs, as well as the labour pool and projected labour market needs in the Sahtu.
ECE has also committed to completing a Sahtu Oil and Gas Needs Assessment, the first phase of which was completed in 2013. The second phase is expected to be completed by this spring.
The assessment is looking into the training requirements of industry and the effects of oil and gas development on Sahtu businesses and other stakeholders, Morton said.
“This needs assessment will provide a more informed picture of the activity and associated training needs in the Sahtu, and will assist with the development of the feasibility study for the Sahtu Technical Institute,” she said.
Apart from the two research initiatives, Morton said supports do exist in the Sahtu at present, where there are two career development officers (CDOs) located in Norman Wells who provide services such as career counselling, resume and cover letter writing, interview skill building, funding application assistance and help gaining access to educational resources.
Those CDOs travel to all Sahtu communities on a regular basis to promote career development, Morton said, talking to high school youth, industry, community groups and other agencies. They also organize career fairs.
She said the department has increased spending on career development by nearly 90 per cent over the last year, and new funding has been allocated for two new positions in Norman Wells: an additional CDO and a regional training coordinator, to be housed at Aurora College.
There is also a regional training partnership committee, which has a flexible five-year training plan to identify and guide training in the region, Morton said.
More needed from GNWT: MLA
Still, Yakeleya said the GNWT is “dragging its feet” on getting people in the region prepared for an influx of industrial activity. While the feasibility study on a possible technical institute is “good news,” Yakeleya said more is needed.
He said the territorial government needs to take the lead in working with the land corporations, band offices, industry and educational boards to create a solid plan.
The same support is needed for students who have dropped out or have yet to pursue further education or training after graduation, Yakeleya said.
“We have to give hope to the young people. When we say, ‘go to school’ or ‘stay in school’ or ‘go back to school,’ we have to offer something at the end of that,” he said.