A Stepping Stone for Indigenous Youth

Jun 26, 2020

The Coronavirus has put many things on hold, or even flat out cancelled. This year’s Outland Youth Employment Program (OYEP) won’t be one of them.

“Far too often, Indigenous youth are left behind.  This time, in particular, it’s important for youth who are transitioning from high school that they still have this experience to provide them with those stepping stones,” says Hamish Black, the program manager of OYEP in Western Canada.

“We want to make sure that they still have that opportunity, especially given the COVID environment that we are offering some certainty during pretty uncertain times.”

West Fraser is a proud sponsor of this initiative that promotes culturally inclusive land-based education, training, and work experience for Indigenous Youth. There are programs offered in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario. Participants learn more about natural resource industries such as forestry and mining, in addition to pre-employment and transferable skills such as interview prep and work preparedness.

Beyond providing the program with financial support, our Company also engages in learning activities with participants that expand their knowledge of the forest industry,the life cycle of different forests and forest products, as well as an understanding of future green career opportunities.

“It’s a great stepping stone for the youth because it may be their first exposure to the natural resource sector and understanding what kind of jobs are out there. It gives a bit more understanding of what our sector is about and what foresters and other forest professionals might do in their day to day,” explains Julie Dinsdale, Stewardship and Policy Forester with West Fraser.

Changes for COVID-19

This summer’s program is going ahead but with some changes. The program will still have the essential activities, but while it usually runs for six weeks at camp, now it will only be camp-based for three weeks. The students will have two weeks of online learning beforehand. As this is also a paying gig, the participants will still earn the same amount of money as years prior.

The program is separated into three years. In the final year, participants are called crew leaders in training. The program has only been in British Columbia for three years, so this is the first time there will be Crew Leaders in Training from BC in this program, which focuses on building management skills.

Jasmine George hopes to be a part of that group this year.

“It really has changed my view of forestry because it’s given me insight into what the workers do for forestry and the opportunities I could have by going to school for forestry,” she says.

West Fraser’s engagement in the program this year will be a combination of online training, leading land-based field learning with participants, as well as providing opportunities for practice interviews with forest professionals.

A Voice for Indigenous Youth

Beyond providing many of the young people with their first jobs and employment connections, Hamish Black, Western Operations Manager, feels the program is critical because it also provides a voice to Indigenous Youth. It includes them in conversations about their future that they’re often left out of.

“It’s providing space for youth to really explore who they are and what their interests are, connect with themselves and the land, and their experience and their goals, and then use that voice to facilitate change,” continues Hamish. “The confidence we see from the youth on day one to the end of the program is one of the most exciting pieces to see. I think it’s important that young people have the space to speak for themselves and to be a part of the conversations of what’s happened in the past and how do we move forward.”

For Julie, she sees it as a way for young people to find out how their personal experiences put them a step ahead in industries such as forestry.

“We definitely see Indigenous youth coming out of this program as having a higher level of preparedness, and they may have a leg up on folks who’ve never been camping or have used an ATV or know the plants. They already know a lot from their life experiences that links to forestry directly, and the participants responded with excitement in hearing that feedback.”

For Jasmine, and many of the other participants, it’s also just a time to meet other Indigenous Youth.

“It’s a pretty neat program that I’ve enjoyed. I’ve actually met so many people there and connected with so many of them that if I enjoyed it, I want to share it with more people.”

The application deadline for the 2020 OYEP program ended in June, with online learning kicking off soon, and the camp portion of the program taking place in August.