‘It opens a lot of doors’: Piikani Nation trades program sees first graduates

Eighteen young men are graduating this week from a brand new trades program on the Piikani Nation.

The program is a joint effort with the Educational Partnership Foundation, and typically offers high school students classwork and hands-on training to prepare them for apprenticeship entrance exams.

The foundation’s CEO Barbara Simic says they are committed to expanding to even more rural communities, especially in the face of a looming trades shortage.

“They will be our next generation of trades and we need to fill these positions,” Simic said.

“We want jobs to be for Albertans.”

Nineteen-year-old Kalib Smith is the youngest graduate from the new program.

He says his mother was major part of his motivation to sign up.

“She looked after me for 18 or 19 years,” Smith said. “So I think it’s time for me to look after her now.”

After seeing many friends lose motivation since high school, Smith also says he did it for himself.

“It opens a lot of doors, especially if you don’t know what to do with your life,” Smith said. “I’m young and I’m absorbing a lot of information.”

Eight weeks of training in pipefitting, iron work and carpentry later, Kalib says he may have found a passion for iron work and welding.

Instructors say all 18 students dedicated themselves to completing the courses.

“Eighteen started and 18 finished, which is pretty amazing,” iron work instructor Oakley Cooper said.

“We were running out of stuff to teach them, they were catching on so fast.”

He says their hope is that all 18 will also pursue an apprenticeship.

“The next steps are signing up for apprenticeship and getting employment,” Cooper said. “So that’ll be through us, and we’ll find them a placement hopefully closer to home.”

Smith says the extra consideration of distance is crucial.

“There’s a lot of kids like me around here, that are… lost, I should say,” Smith said.

“Because there’s a lot of people around here that could have done great things, but they didn’t because they don’t want to move away from home.”

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