New Intro to Trades Program Inspires Students

December 21, 2012 - 1:30am

COWICHAN, BC: Students enrolled in a new Introduction to Trades program at Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan Campus say the program is changing their lives for the better.

“The program has given me a clear direction,” says George Harry of the Malahat First Nations, who left high school in grade 10.

“I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs over the years, but finally at age 30, I know what I want to do – work in the construction industry.”

Student Emily Charlie of the Cowichan Tribes says the Intro to Trades program is her ticket to independence and a good paying job to support herself and her four-year-old son.

Charlie and Harry were among 22 students – mostly Aboriginal – who gathered at VIU’s Cowichan campus Wednesday, Dec. 19 to celebrate the completion of a 12 by 24 foot kiosk built by the class from the ground up with materials donated by Cowichan Valley construction company Surespan Ltd. The celebration marks the end of the classroom portion of the program before students begin three-week work experience placements in the community.

“Building the kiosk provided an excellent teaching and learning tool,” says VIU carpentry instructor Warren Mearns. “Everyone in the class is pretty proud of this project.”

The Intro to Trades program attracts a mix of students – from young adults to high school age youth. They learn a wide variety of Trades including carpentry, documentation and plan reading, painting, drywall, mould remediation and insulation, roofing and flooring. Mearns also brings other industry experts into the classroom to talk about their work. Students begin building small projects like dog houses, saw horses and picture frames, then move on to larger projects like the kiosk.

The five-month program is offered by VIU in partnership with Cowichan School District #79, Cowichan Tribes, and the Coast Salish Employment Training Society (CSETS, Bladerunners). The partners provide some financial assistance to students for tuition, supplies and personal equipment.

“The program is unique because it changes the face of traditional education,” says Ron Nunweiller, Acting Director of Middle and Secondary Education for School District # 79. Additional job coaching and cultural supports are also built into the program to help students integrate into the workplace.

“We recognize that students have different learning styles. This program provides a new opportunity for students to be successful and engage in their education. Students can receive credits towards high school graduation as well as a Trade certification.

“Our hope is that once students complete the program, they’ll be inspired to continue their education in a high school setting, through the School District’s Adult Education program or at VIU. Others may graduate from the program and enter the workforce immediately to utilize their new skills.”

The program has already inspired students like Harry and Charlie to sign up for VIU’s seven-month Foundation Carpentry Level I program, which begins in February.

“I upgraded through the school district’s Adult Education program to prepare for the Foundation program,” says Harry. “I got an A in Math. The sense of accomplishment I feel is awesome.”

Charlie, the only female student in the class, is already working to gain experience. One day a week when not in class, she works for Warm Valley Construction helping to build a house and two duplexes on the Cowichan Tribes reserve.

“This program has really been life-changing for me,” she adds. “When I left public school just before grade 11 exams, I thought that was it. But this program has made me want to learn more, and be a role model for my son and my 15-year-old nephew.”

Cowichan Tribes Chief Harvey Alphonse is delighted the program is making such a difference for Aboriginal students. “We met with representatives from VIU and the BC Construction Association to discuss the possibility of aligning our efforts to provide more training for community members and the general public as well,” he said.

“The role of the BC Construction Association is to work with industry and trainees to provide meaningful employment once trainees have completed their course in their chosen field. I also met with a representative from Cowichan High School and we talked about reaching students at a much earlier grade and providing students with tools to prepare them for either university or alternatively with employment in trades.”

For Charlie, the Intro to Trades program counts as 16 credits towards her Adult Education certificate. She can’t wait until February when she starts VIU’s Foundation Carpentry Level 1 program and moves one step closer towards her goal of working in the construction industry.

VIU and its partners will be offering a second intake of Intro to Trades at the Cowichan campus starting February 13. To find out more, email


Tags: In the Community

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