Liaison role a career stepping stone for First Nations worker

‘It’s great to see someone grow and excel in their new job when you're still working with them’

The secrets to career success aren’t really secrets at all—among them hard work, a genuine desire to learn and grow, strong communication and reporting skills stand out.

And when you can back that up with previous, relevant work experience, you’re off to the races.

So it is with Justin McKinney, a Swan Lake First Nation resident who’s progressed in little more than one year from being a senior construction monitor to a role as Indigenous Construction Liaison for the Line 3 pipeline replacement project, in an area encompassing 189 kilometres in southwestern Manitoba.

“I was approached through the Band to work on (construction) spreads 8 and 9 because I had environmental monitoring experience and three years in power line construction,” says McKinney, referring to Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III project. “With the Line 3 project going through the reserve, the construction team was looking for candidates who knew the local area and the people.”

McKinney joined the project in August 2018 as an Aboriginal Construction Monitor with Matrix Solutions. The focus of the role is to provide an Indigenous perspective, and to ensure implementation of environmental and cultural protection measures during construction and right-of-way reclamation.

Monitors are overseen by an construction liaison who’s responsible for the success of Indigenous workers and contactors, as well as acting as a resource for the monitors. That’s the position McKinney was promoted to in June of this year, at the insistence of Spread 8 Construction Manager Glen Stetsko and Assistant Construction Manager Mike Jespersen.

“Justin put in the time and effort in the first season and was simply the best fit to move up into the position,” says Jespersen. “He had a great relationship with everyone, he was local, and it just made sense to move him into the role as he was already doing a lot of the tasks due to the relationships he had with the community. And it’s great to see someone grow and excel in their new job when they're still working with you.”

Says McKinney: “Before I came to this project, I was on the lower end of things. I didn’t know anything about pipelines but there was always someone to help me and answer my questions.”

Remarks Jespersen: “Justin and I speak daily. He comes to daily meetings and provides updates from the Swan lake community. This is his chance to share any concerns he sees in construction execution. As a team, we go over the daily work plan provided by the contractor and each inspector gets their assignment for the day. Justin then assigns inspections to his junior monitors. Any work that happens on Swan lake lands always has Justin or another First Nations monitor involved.”

Offers McKinney: “The biggest thing I like about this job is the involvement with the construction team. With the experience I’ve gained from this job, I’m looking for other jobs doing this type of work when this project wraps up.”

When the time comes, all indications are the Swan Lake resident will make a great candidate.

“One of the reasons Justin is successful is that he’s a peacemaker,” says Jespersen. “He has the ability to filter information and disseminate that to the appropriate parties. He’s patient and curious regarding construction execution, he brings knowledge of environmental stewardship from other jobs, and his reports are detail-oriented and well-documented with the appropriate facts.”

(TOP PHOTO: Swan Lake First Nation resident Justin McKinney acted as an Indigenous Construction Liaison for Enbridge's Line 3 Replacement Program in southwestern Manitoba.)