When leaders at EECOL Electric (EECOL) and Pacific Electrical Installations (PEI) decided to create a First Nations Capacity Fund, they had big hopes for what the program could accomplish, and no idea they’d see immediate results. The reality was, within a couple of weeks of funding their pilot program for the Fund, five Sto:lo community members had benefited directly.
Both EECOL and PEI consider their relationships with First Nations in the communities in which they operate to be of integral value to their businesses.
“While part of our respective engagement strategies focus on attracting, hiring and promoting First Nations people, we believe this should be standard practice for any organization operating in and around Aboriginal communities,” says Jason Zurowski, EECOL’s General Manager, Utility and Industrial. “Our companies wanted to raise the bar and show our commitment to Aboriginal engagement is about much more than creating employment opportunities within our own industry.”
“Let’s face it, not everyone wants to build powerlines or work in the electricity industry’s supply chain,” said Chad Bentley, Project Manager at PEI. “So why not offer opportunities for people to set training and development goals aligned with their interests, and then support them to be successful? At the end of the day, if we’re facilitating people getting jobs or expanding their career prospects, that’s a win.”
Partnering with Leonard Jackson of BCT Projects, EECOL and PEI have co-founded the First Nations Capacity Fund, a non-profit society that exists to create training and employment opportunities for First Nations people in any vocation of their choosing.
In December 2016, the partners launched a pilot program to test their model, working with Sto:lo Aboriginal Skills & Employment Training (SASET) to allocate the fund’s investment. SASET is funded by Service Canada and the Province of British Columbia to deliver employment and training services and can use additional industry investment, like that received from the First Nations Capacity Fund, to offer support in ways government dollars can sometimes not be spent.SASET used the capacity fund’s pilot funding to purchase personal work and safety gear; support companies in avoiding lay-offs by helping pay for specific training and retraining programs; and offer wage and transportation subsidies to recipients enrolled in training and with families to support. The five Sto:lo community members who benefited from the fund in December are all in full-time employment today, some in BC and one in Alberta.
“A capacity-funding model like this is exciting because it isn’t about companies saying ‘we have to do this,’ it’s companies saying we want to do it because it’s the right thing to do for local communities impacted by their businesses, and because there’s a clear line of sight to a positive impact on the businesses and their bottom lines,” says Leonard Jackson, who worked with EECOL and PEI to develop the strategy for their First Nations Capacity Fund. “The model is simple and can be replicated anywhere. All that’s needed is a genuine commitment to taking a different approach.”
The success of the pilot program means EECOL and PEI are making an annual investment in the fund and have begun looking to other parts of the province for opportunities to invest. If you are a company considering a similar approach as part of your Aboriginal engagement strategy, contact Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 250.571.4339 to learn more about this innovative approach to creating genuine community partnerships and engagement.