Training program boosts confidence of adult First Nations learners

July 17, 2012 - 9:02pm

A unique 18-day employment training program designed to boost leadership skills among First Nations students has inspired Chris George to pursue his education and become a family physician.

George, 21, was one of 12 graduates from the Foundations in Leadership and Capacity Building program offered at Vancouver Island University’s Cowichan campus in partnership with Cowichan Tribes.

“It’s a great course,” says George. “I’ve noticed huge progress in my communication skills and self-confidence.”

Teacher Sharon deLure welled up with tears handing out graduation certificates in Cowichan.

“Six weeks ago when these students first walked into the classroom, they were nervous and shy,” says deLure. “Now they have the confidence to look you in the eye and speak up for what they need. They’ve realized their success in life starts with believing they can do it.”

Graduate Gary Edwards is eager to put his new skills to work.

“My sister told me I’d benefit from this course and she was right,” says Edwards. “I have learned many new strategies that will help me communicate better with everyone in my life. Before this course, I spent most days playing games. Now my dream is to become a culinary arts cook and have my own restaurant. This program has made me want to learn.”

The six-week Leadership and Capacity Building program is aimed at indigenous communities under the provincial Employment Skills Access (ESA) program.

“It’s designed to give unemployed Aboriginal adults a unique opportunity to develop the self awareness and personal skills to improve their lives and strengthen their communities, says Marion Knost, manager of contract training at VIU.

“The program is a great opportunity for individuals who face financial and training-related barriers,” adds Knost. “It helps people transform their lives and close the skills gap for those who struggle to enter (or re-enter) the job market. Participants report that they have more confidence and conviction to make personal changes, and a greater determination to contribute to the health and vitality of their families, communities and, ultimately, the world.”

Knost said several program graduates have secured employment or are confidently searching for work.

VIU received more than $700,000 this year under the ESA program to deliver the Leadership program, and three other employment training programs in shellfish aquaculture, introduction to culinary arts and marine operator training.

Working with North Island College in Campbell River, Camosun College in Victoria and First Nations communities on Vancouver Island, Knost coordinated delivery of five Leadership programs for 66 participants.

Besides Cowichan, programs were hosted in Nanoose by Snaw-Naw-As First Nations, Ucluelet by Yuutu?it?ath and Tla-oqui-aht First Nations, and in Victoria at the Sanich Adult Education Centre with students from Pauquachin, Tseycum, Tsawout and Tsartlip First Nations.

A Leadership program was also hosted in Powell River by Tla’amin Community Health Services with students from Sliammon, West Bank, Klahoose and Gitwangak First Nations.

Participant Christie Joe, a member of Cowichan Tribes, says the Leadership program should be taught in high schools.

“This program helped me understand how to communicate better at home and in the workplace,” she says. “I have a six-year-old and four-year-old and have already noticed a huge change in our family environment thanks to the skills I’ve learned and practice at home. My daughter listens better and follows through.

“I was nervous using my voice because I am shy,” adds Joe, “but the program has helped me to think clearly, communicate and use my voice to resolve issues more effectively.”

Keith Chiquen, interim director at VIU’s Cowichan Campus, congratulated the Cowichan graduates and challenged them to take their knowledge and leadership skills to new heights.

“We need people to step forward and become leaders,” he said. “By taking this course, you made the decision to do something helpful to improve your environment and your community. Inside each of you is greatness. You have already affected people’s lives, and now you’ve learned some skills that will help you be even more effective.

“I encourage you to act in a small sphere of influence where you can make significant change. It’s like the ripple effect when you drop a pebble in a pond. You can influence profound change and leave a mark towards a better community.”

Knost is confident VIU will receive funding approval to offer additional employment training programs in culinary arts, marine operator training, and the Leadership program. New proposals have also been submitted to government for training programs in Workstart Essentials: Retail and Hospitality, Building Service Worker for people interested in entering the maintenance or custodial field, and Low Energy Electrical Foundation training.

VIU is one of several post-secondary institutions in BC to receive funding for skills training through the provincial ESA program. Funding comes from the Canada-British Columbia Labour Market Agreement through the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Innovation.

For more details about upcoming ESA programs coordinated through VIU, contact Pam Botterill at or 250-740-6163 or Marion Knost at or 250-740-6364 or visit

Tags: In the Community

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