Kenny Enuaraq struggled several times to pass the mandatory test to become a tradesperson, but he wouldn’t let himself quit.
“A lot of time with poor opportunities and not enough help, I always failed that trades entrance exam,” Enuaraq recalled.
He finally met an experienced tradesperson who provided mentorship and helped him overcome the academic obstacles that kept holding him back.
Although he wanted to assist his mother and grandparents with the upkeep of their homes, Enuaraq packed up and left his home community of Clyde River last year to attend college in Rankin Inlet. After completing eight months of pre-trades in April, he landed a casual apprentice position with the Rankin Inlet Housing Association.
Enuaraq, 30, is not alone in his hardship posed by the trades entrance exam. For four out of the five past years, more Nunavummiut have failed the test than have passed it. It’s a predicament that has caused the Department of Family Services, which oversees the exam, to make plans to expand tutoring services.
A trades entrance exam tutor was hired in Iqaluit as part of a pilot project with southern-based Frontier College in 2017-18. That individual provided instruction for a variety of courses during evenings and weekends, when students needed it after-hours.
Over the past two years, 43 students requested tutoring. Twenty-eight of them abandoned their quest to become tradespersons. Several are still under tutorship. Nine wrote the pre-trades test. Two passed. Three of the seven who failed had written the exam previously and improved their marks.
Some students who sought out the tutor have made “tremendous strides,” said Robert Clift, director of career development with Family Services.
“It’s still not great because a lot of the students are starting from somewhat of a deficit in their science and math education,” Clift said.
With the tutoring expansion, an after-hours instructor will be on site in Rankin Inlet as of this fall. Another tutor will do a four-month term in Cape Dorset before the new year and that will be followed by a four-month stint in Cambridge Bay in early 2020. There’s also been discussion about making a tutor accessible in Arviat, Clift added.
Nunavut bases its trades entrance exam on the Alberta model. Dropping the exam isn’t an option, according to Clift.
“We’d like to be in a position here to say when you graduate high school you’re ready to go on to trades training. Unfortunately, because of the uneven treatment of math and science across the territory, we’re not able to say that,” he said. “We use the exam, basically, so we don’t send people off to fail. People that don’t pass the exam, typically… they’re just not going to pass the technical training.”
The department is also in the midst of reorganizing its trades training to offer more academic support up front, particularly in math and science. Safety, computer training and Inuktitut lessons will be incorporated, too, Clift said.
When Enuaraq found out recently that Family Services would be expanding its tutoring to more communities, he was elated.
“That gives me chills just hearing that,” he said. “That’s good news! We’re getting more help. That’s amazing.”
As a youth, Enuaraq was preoccupied with sports. The only job he could find with his limited education was retail. He originally desired to become an electrical linesman but he saw a better path forward through plumbing. Besides, he said, water leaks are “the most destructive thing,” leading to mould issues in homes and offices.
“It’s the most underrated trade,” said Enuaraq. “There’s a lot of stuff. I could keep on going forever: the tools, how to keep everyone safe, how stuff goes through the pipe. It’s just so interesting. There’s a lot to learn. I’m still learning every day, which is going to continue for a number of years… I’m in love with it.”
Trades entrance exam in Nunavut 2014-2018
Year Number Who Wrote Exam Number Who Passed Exam Pass Rate
2014 106 46 43.4%
2015 88 25 28.4%
2016 23 13 56.5%
2017 66 23 34.8%
2018 104 34 32.7%
Source: Department of Family Services