Pipeline training program a 'win-win' for Aboriginal community

Enbridge, Banister Pipelines team up with Whitefish Lake First Nation in Alberta

When the Whitefish Lake First Nation No. 128 approached Enbridge last spring with a proposal to partner in a pipeline skills training program, the answer was an obvious “yes.”

“It was very doable. It was a real easy one for us to be a part of,” says Jordan Duguay, an Edmonton-based Aboriginal business advisor with Enbridge’s Aboriginal Affairs division.

Enbridge strives to create opportunities that are aligned with the aspirations of Aboriginal communities near our projects and operations – and Enbridge, alongside trusted contractor Banister Pipelines, was one of the first companies to respond to Rennie Houle’s request for help from industry partners.

As the employment training co-ordinator with the Whitefish Lake First Nation, Houle plays a lead role in developing initiatives that help advance economic development in the northern Alberta Aboriginal community.

About 1,500 of the 2,500 Whitefish Lake First Nation No. 128 members live on the reserve 220 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. While an industrial dry-cleaning plant and garment factory provide some employment, many of the reserve’s younger residents are forced to seek work outside the community and away from home – but often encounter barriers to employment because of a lack of skills and training.

The band’s leadership is trying to change that situation – aiming to enrich lives and brighten futures within its community, by embracing the challenge of economic renewal.

“Our leadership’s focus has always been to mobilize our people to a workforce,” says Houle.

Pipeline construction training was identified a couple of years ago as a potential initiative – and when Enbridge began advertising labour-force needs for its Wood Buffalo and Woodland Pipeline extension projects, Houle saw an opportunity to make something happen. He plugged into the local labour union, Local 92, and the two organizations soon developed an introduction-to-pipelines program that could be offered in the community.

After Enbridge entered the partnership, Duguay worked with trusted contractor, Banister Pipelines, to ensure the trainees would have employment as well as skills. For the 15 band members who successfully completed the 10-week course this past summer, there are Banister jobs waiting for graduates during the winter construction season, should they so choose.

“That’s one of the key items we consider for any training initiative – whether these candidates will have a job to go to after the training,” says Duguay. “From Enbridge’s perspective, we are very happy Banister would guarantee the positions, and support our approach to maximizing local Aboriginal participation in our projects.”

The outcome, says Houle, is a “win-win” for everyone.

“We want to have a sincere partnership and they in turn, have been very sincere with training programs and partnering. They come to our table,” he says. “They don’t have to come to every meeting, but they do. When they show commitment like that, you work twice as hard.”