Mike Deranger is articulate and insightful in describing his “Aboriginal” solution. Train Aboriginal workers to be more than labourers – help them to become skilled labourers.
It’s a simple solution that, he says, will solve a host of societal problems for Aboriginal people living both on and off reserve. Give them the opportunity to earn a good income, provide for their families and take pride in a job well done. The rest, says Deranger, will fall into place.
“It’s such a simple idea for such a complex problem,” says Deranger, owner of Derantech, a 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned mobile welding service based in Fort McMurray, Alberta. “With the fastest growing young population in Canada, there is no reason why we can’t have a huge workforce trained, literally overnight.”
Although there are already-existing Aboriginal trades training programs, Deranger believes that they are only successful to a point. His vision for Aboriginal trades training reaches far beyond the limits of these programs by selecting only the best candidates. “Even programs with good intentions can have negative results. They accept almost anyone but, instead, we need to be proactive with our selection process to have successful results,” he says.
Deranger is honest with his assessments and the people he now accepts for pre-apprenticeship training with his company. Aboriginal workers need no-nonsense training, support and coaching, he explains, but they also need to earn the position the same way everyone else does. He doesn’t believe in corporate “native quotas,” saying these efforts concentrate on 10 per cent of the local population and have proven to be successful but the time has come to start thinking beyond local to the Aboriginal people of Canada.
“Many times, recruiters would prefer to hire immigrants rather than Aboriginals,” says Deranger. “I would ask them to go back and reconsider that.”
“I know there are barriers working against us but this new generation is different and can’t be pushed aside. They represent the largest and most willing workforce in the country and they are proud of their culture and heritage,” he adds.
Deranger says another secret to successful trades training is to ensure that funding will not be pulled – a problem that can hamper government programs. Successful Aboriginal candidates also need to be mentored and coached much longer as they typically need more time to integrate into the workforce.
“To build a workforce, we have to start with young people,” says Deranger. “In five years, I believe we can be well on our way to have trained, apprenticed and integrated 150,000 Aboriginal tradespeople…always taking the best candidates but also focusing on recruiting from areas that need social conditions improved.”
With a projected future shortage of up to 300,000 tradespeople, Deranger’s dream of finding employment for his group of 150,000 well-trained Aboriginal workers is a realistic goal.
To date, he has assembled a management team, a financial plan as well as letters of support from Keyano College, Alberta Advanced Education, UA Local Union 488 and the Athabasca Tribal Council.
Now, all Deranger needs is buy-in from industry and corporate Canada. Ultimately, his goal is to help develop a national Aboriginal trades training strategy, using his recruiting, training and mentoring techniques, which would be implemented across the country, with a special emphasis on isolated northern communities.
“Many of our people have heard about careers but never had one,” he says. “That has to change.”
Mike Deranger can be reached at 780.799.1023 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.