Growing up, Amber Abou, a member of the Kwadacha First Nation (British Columbia, Canada), was often told, ‘Believe that you can succeed’. This phrase inspired her to enroll in the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS) funded Office Administration Certificate program. “I knew that with the Office Administration Certificate program I’d be able to get steady employment with an organization that I had a connection to,” said Abou.
The program was offered at the Native Education College, an Indigenous Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia. Through her sister Abou discovered that ACCESS sponsors a variety of programs – Office Administration, trades training and apprenticeship opportunities, the BladeRunners program for at-risk-youth, health programs and even an upcoming Introduction to Film bootcamp. ACCESS also offers individual seat purchases for eligible applicants of Indigenous heritage.
Abou discovered that being in a smaller classroom operated and owned by the Aboriginal community created the setting she wanted and where she knew she could succeed. “You feel like you have a place, and everyone knows each other,” said Abou. She found that ACCESS offered ongoing support with funding for course materials and supplies, study and tutor support, computer lab access, skill assessments, and pre-employment and career counselling.
After graduation ACCESS helped Abou secure a one-month practicum placement as an Office Assistant at the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS). “I wanted to give back to the place and people where I felt I belonged,” she explained. She was already familiar with VACFSS and its importance to the urban Aboriginal community from the eight years she had volunteered on their Youth Advisory Committee for Kids in Foster Care.
The work practicum successfully led to ongoing casual employment with the organization. She has since applied for a permanent position.
Brittani Russell’s future changed when she decided to leave a camp job after becoming a single parent of very young children. On a whim Russell took an interview her brother could not make with the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS) for a seat in the Metal Fabrication program. It resulted in her acceptance into the course. “When I thought the future didn’t look so great, a lot of good stuff started happening,” Russell said.
Russell already knew of ACCESS Trades. She had heard of its partnership with Seaspan, an association of Canadian companies primarily involved in coastal marine transportation, and wanted to explore a career in the field. “When I was a kid I was a Sea Cadet, and always wanted to work in the shipyards and with metal. My great grandfather was a Silversmith and my father was a Sheet Metal Worker in HVAC.”
Once accepted, ACCESS conducted Essential Skills testing to assess Russell’s competencies, then designed a support system for skills upgrading to help Russell during her training. It would be several months before the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) program started. While waiting for it, Russell completed the BladeRunners 16 safety and industry-recognized certifications. She said, “When the BCIT Metal Fabrication program began, I felt more than ready to succeed.”
Throughout the program ACCESS offered ongoing support through tutoring, study groups and aid from the Trades Program Training and Employment Coaches. “They also helped me connect with my Aboriginal heritage. It was the Aboriginal support and connections that enabled me to excel at BCIT.” Russell was not only successful in the program, but she also won scholarships, grants and bursaries.
Resume support and interview coaching helped her win a position as an apprentice Fabrication Specialist, which then led to her current job working with an earlier employer, Wellons, as a Machine Operator, and with Iron Workers 712. Russell said, “Less than two years ago, I was on Social Assistance and couldn’t make ends meet. Today, I am completely debt-free with perfect credit, life insurance, a pension, RRSPs and other benefits. I’m now able to make a better future for my kids and me.”