Ross Spur resident Tina Paterson was looking for a new direction in life when an email from her child’s elementary school introduced her to the Safety in Resource Industry Forestry Training Program (SiRI) offered at Selkirk College. A single mother of two, Paterson jumped at the chance to gain job ready skills and build a resume aimed a higher paid employment.
Paterson is one of 50 residents from around the region who has taken advantage of the tuition-free program that aims to get unemployed and under-employed people the training they require to transition into an industry that needs more entry level workers. In partnership with the federal and provincial governments, SiRI has provided the forest industry training over the winter in five different communities around the region.
Tina Paterson was one of 12 participants in the Safety in Resource Industry Forestry Training (SiRI) Program offered at Selkirk College. Taking part in the Salmo course, Paterson learned skills like fire suppression.
“I was in the middle of figuring out what I want to do when I grow up,” the 40-year-old Paterson says with a laugh. “I’ve been a customer service rep and a secretary for a really long time. I need to make bigger money because I can’t support my kids on minimum wage as a single parent.”
SiRI is a month-long program that offers eligible individuals the opportunity to gain 17 certificates in areas such as Occupational First Aid, Chainsaw Handling & Safety Training, Fire Suppression & Entrapment Avoidance Training, Bear Aware and Tree Identification. The program was designed with extensive input from leaders in the area’s forest industry who told Selkirk College that entry level skills will help enable a more productive workforce.
Paterson joined a group of 12 people who took part in the program that was offered out of Salmo during the month of February. Earlier in the winter, Selkirk College offered the program in Crawford Bay, Nelson, Nakusp and Slocan.
“I think this program is amazing,” says Paterson. “I’m excited because I think it’s going to open a lot of doors for me.”
Feedback Has Been Positive for Program
The resources for SiRI arrived through the Canada-British Columbia Job Fund which is spearheaded by the province’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism & Skills Training. Selkirk College has delivered courses under the program in previous years, but this is the first year where the industry played a major role in identifying the specific needs.
With a 100 per cent completion rate in the program, the expectations for what the program will be able to deliver to the forest industry in the coming months has already been exceeded.
Don Mortimer from Fire Line Consulting was one of the instructors in the SiRI Program. Mortimer taught Fire Suppression & Entrapment Avoidance Training to students in Salmo.
“We will know better about attachment to the workforce in a few months, but certainly the participants have been pleased with their training,” says Selkirk College Project Based Training Coordinator Dawn Lang. “In the evaluations that are completed at the conclusion of the program, all of the participants have come back telling us they are really excited about how employable they are now and appreciated getting the training.”
Ensuring the program was offered throughout the region was an important element of ensuring the training would be accessible to a wide range of people. It is the first time Selkirk College has offered this level of programming in Salmo and Slocan where participants were able to take part close to home.
“It’s pretty exciting for us to go into these communities,” says Lang. “We are building new connections in the region which will be beneficial in the future.”
One of the main focuses of the program is the Employment Success Foundation which partners with local employment agencies to provide 30 hours of training in areas of resume writing, identifying job trends, interview skills and networking.
Using a holistic approach, Selkirk College is also able to offer participants a closer look at how they can take their training to the next level. With assistance from the college’s counseling department, students have been able to explore other options like expanding on first aid training or enrolling in the two-year Forest Technology Program.
“This opens up lots of opportunities for the participants,” says Lang. “We are helping them identify pathways and then we can provide further assistance in developing whatever trajectory works for them. The program has a really strong support system built into it for the participants, we are not only providing them with the training but other services at Selkirk College.”
Discovering a World of Potential
Though she is comfortable in the outdoors, the diminutive Paterson admits that when the program started she was out of her comfort zone. Lugging around large hoses for forest fire fighting and powering a chainsaw was a challenge, but Paterson says she surprised herself.
Students in the Salmo Safety in Resource Industry Forestry Training Program earned 17 related certificates in four weeks of participation.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” she says. “I’m excited to maybe get onto a firefighting crew and experience that world. I like the outdoors and have a lot of bush knowledge already.”
Paterson’s enthusiasm was echoed by others in the Salmo course, providing proof that the program is achieving its intended goals.
“It really helps people’s self-confidence and increases awareness of what their potential might be,” says Lang.
Selkirk College’s Project Based Training also ran the Professional Driver Training: Class 1 Program out of Castlegar over the winter with 16 participants.