Indigenous construction students complete energy efficient shed at Westbank First Nation

The students were part of a training program designed to provide construction and energy efficiency training to prepare them for the workforce

It’s a challenging time for many as people continue to grapple with this global pandemic. But on one tiny, yet significant square of the world, Indigenous students are prepping for a new normal by training in clean energy construction.

From Sept. 21 to Oct. 29, ten Indigenous construction students worked to build an energy efficient shed on Westbank First Nation (WFN).

The completed building, which has high-efficiency walls, insulation, two windows and a solar light, is located next to the WFN Community Garden and will be used for food and equipment storage.

“I liked the teamwork when we built the garden shed-everybody being together and helping each other,” says PIB member Selena Joe. “It’s given me a sense of accomplishment.”

Selena Joe onsite, building the WFN energy efficient shed. Photo Submitted by Nicole Brown. 

Joe and the other students were building the energy efficient shed as part of a training program in collaboration with WFN, the Okanagan Training and Council (OTDC)and FortisBC’s Residential Energy and Efficiency Works (REnEW) program.

“I entered the program to get some experience under my belt. I had never worked on a job site before,” says Joe. 

Over the course of the 4-week program she and the other students received eight safety-related certificates in the program, including WHMIS, First Aid, and small machinery operator’s licence. The students received two weeks of in-class and on-site training with mentors and industry professionals from West Kelowna construction company, WIBCO Construction Ltd.

“I’m feeling a lot more confident now about going to a job site,” says Joe reflecting on the experience. 

An inside peek to Insulation of garden shed. Photo Submitted by Nicole Brown.

Building opportunities 

The program’s goal is to provide participants with the self-confidence and skills they need to achieve new goals and opportunities in the construction industry, says Nicole Brown, corporate communications advisor for FortisBC. 

“It gives students some exposure that they might not have had before. It makes them familiar with what it’s like to be on a job site,” says Brown.

WFN worked with FortisBC and OTDC to identify students for the program.

“Fortis value’s the relationships with Indigenous communities,” Brown says, “We feel that those partnerships are the best foot forward and making sure that we have an energy system in BC that serves everyone.” 

Now in its tenth year, the REnEW program, they work with 57 different First Nations across B.C., according to Brown. The ten recent graduates join the 122 other students who have graduated from the program.

For these students, their journey will continue after graduation. They’ll be supported for two-weeks of work experience on a real construction site and continue to get mentorship for up to three months as they search for related job opportunities or navigate related post-secondary programs.

REnEW participants building garden shed 2020. Photo Submitted by Nicole Brown. 

Joe is looking forward to her next steps as well. 

“I want to go back to school to further my education so I can start working and get some experience.”


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