Youth trades program enters fifth year in Baker Lake

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Senior students at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School (JASS) were immersed in the trades during the fifth annual Trades Awareness, Skills and Knowledge (TASK) week in Baker Lake.

Regular classes were put on hold this past week as students learned about the disciplines of mechanics, welding, culinary arts, electrical, plumbing and hairdressing.

Shanae Piercy, front, and Keanu Nukik are all smiles while participating in the mechanics discipline during Trades Awareness, Skills and Knowledge (TASK) week at Jonah Amitnaaq Secondary School in Baker Lake on May 15. photo courtesy Karen Yip

he TASK week initiative is a partnership between Agnico Eagle Mines (AEM), the Government of Nunavut, the territorial Department of Education and Nunavut Arctic College (NAC).

The week allowed students to learn trades from AEM and NAC instructors through hands-on experience.

About 75 students were scheduled to take part.

AEM community liaison co-ordinator Karen Yip said TASK week has evolved to the point where it now features some of AEM’s own Inuit Red Seal journeymen and apprentices as instructors, including some who were once students at JASS.

She said the program has met with the approval of teachers, instructors and the students themselves.

“I’ve been told that TASK week has been the best-attended week of the entire school year,” said Yip. “The week gives students the opportunity to experience something new and interesting and they really enjoy the hands-on experience of being involved in the trades.”

Yip said one student was described as a “natural” by the instructor of the discipline she spent this past week in.

She said that type of positive reinforcement can be very motivating for a student.

“Even if she doesn’t choose to go into the electrical trade, she does have the opportunity to do so and succeed at it,” said Yip. “I would think the instructor’s remarks would be a good confidence builder for her.”

The number of Inuit instructors and assistant instructors involved in this year’s TASK week represents another step forward for the AEM initiative.

Yip said having Inuit instructors involved in the program further increases student interest and might also increases their confidence in succeeding at a trade as well.

“These are instructors the students can really relate to because they’ve grown up in the same kind of environment as they have,” she said. “They may even have been students at their school and/or classmates of one of their family members, which, I think, can be both inspiring and motivating for these kids.”

YIP said AEM is happy about the increasing number of women who are choosing a career in the trades.

She said women make up 17 per cent of the national workforce in the mining industry, while AEM sits at 19 per cent and is striving for an even higher percentage moving forward.

“This year, we had the largest anticipated attendance in the disciplines of mechanics, culinary arts and hairdressing,” she said. “We have female students in the electrical discipline, and girls in both the mechanic and welding classes, as well as boys in the hairdressing discipline. We’re (AEM) quite proud of this initiative, and there’s been some talk of promoting it more within the company, itself, and not just in Nunavut, but across the country so that more people are aware of these types of initiatives going on in Nunavut.”

Yip said TASK week is the type of program with the potential to provide benefits long after Meadowbank ceases to be a working mine and the company has moved on as trades training provides successful applicants with almost limitless opportunities.

“In just about any community you visit today in the Kivalliq, and across Nunavut for that matter, you recognize the need for more tradespeople,” she said.

“These trades can be taken back to one’s home community, and students who achieve Red Seal certification can work anywhere in Canada with that certification,” she said. “There’s great potential here through trades training…so the opportunities are out there.”

Yip said the company is still hoping to expand TASK week outside of Baker Lake and there’s a possibility that could happen as soon as the coming year.

“It could happen…but I don’t want to say something is going to happen when it may not,” she said. “But, again, yes, we’re thinking we may be able to do something next year. We’ve had great interest from the other communities, so there’s a distinct possibility we may be able to include at least one additional community in the coming year.”