Pre-employment training: a natural place to start

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology is an academic leader in their approach to Indigenous workforce programming and training. SAIT representatives have helped shape the content at the upcoming Workforce Forward. 


Hear about SAIT’s pre-employment training program and how they are helping build capacity within Indigenous communities.

Eden Valley First Nations is nestled near the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, 30 kilometres west of Longview, Alberta. It’s a magnificent, albeit remote setting. Back in the glory days of the local energy sector, oil and gas royalties afforded this community a comfortable, carefree lifestyle. But times have changed in step with the economy. Today’s youth struggle to find direction — and employment.

“There are a lot of barriers to employment on the Nation,” said Debbie Dixon, manager of Service Canada’s Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) program for Eden Valley First Nations. A lack of employable skills is a big problem, but that’s just part of the challenge experienced by First Nation’s youth. Without things like a driver’s licence, transportation or childcare, many young people simply don’t have the option to leave home, for pre-employment training or to find work.

Since making their way to the city isn’t practical for many, Dixon approached SAIT’s Corporate Training Solutions department to bring in pre-employment type training that would address a local industry need. The result was a customized, 14-week on-site Home Renovation program that introduced eager participants to the trades of carpentry, electrical and plumbing.

The students received hands-on instruction in pre-trade fundamentals like how to take measurements and how to use the various power tools. They then applied and practiced their newfound skills while completing multiple projects within the community.

With side-by-side guidance from the SAIT instructor, and direction from a hired contractor, the students helped work on a variety of community projects in need of attention. They built access ramps for residents with mobility challenges, and new garbage bins for many of the households. They also rebuilt all the bleachers in the local rodeo arena.

Near the end of the program the contractor started work on a new-build duplex. Instead of bringing in outside help, he committed to engaging all 14 of the freshly trained students.

“It was awesome,” said Dixon. “The students helped frame it right from the ground up: the floor, the walls, the roof. They helped with all the electrical and plumbing. They put the siding on. It’s such a beautiful building. There’s so much pride with what they accomplished.”

This kind of customized training program brings tangible benefits to the community at large, but it also points participants to a world of opportunities out there in the larger community. There’s a pocket of confidence, optimism and curiosity here among the young participants, and that can truly be life changing.

“Not everything we teach is about the technical hands-on skills,” said Lauren Bishop, Indigenous Client Development Manager within SAIT’s Corporate Training Solutions department. “In giving these students the opportunity to learn through these types of programs, we’ve definitely built some confidence and created hope.”

“I’m so impressed with these young people,” said Dixon. “They want to know what to do and how to do it. They want to get out there and do something.”

So what’s next? The Eden Valley First Nation has plans to finish work on its multi-purpose complex in the near future. Construction on this building started and stalled a few times over the years. The intent now is to hire a contractor, and the Eden Valley pre-trades students, to get this sizable project completed.

Learn more about SAIT’s Indigenous workforce training. Visit or email


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