Myrt Turner

HFP workers meet with skills training

Enhancing current work skills is their focus, and they're in Houston to support workers at Houston Forest Products.

Enhancing current work skills is their focus, and they’re in Houston to support workers at Houston Forest Products.

Two people from the Northern Skills Training (NST) were in Houston last week Tuesday, meeting with HFP workers and telling them about their program.

“We want people to have the ability to move forward within the industry,” said Terry Tate, Project Coordinator.

“Our objective is to give you the skills you need to [do that] – and those skills are transferable,” he said.

NST is a $3 million pilot project that came out of a labour market agreement and is funded by the federal and provincial governments and administered through the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.

It is for all employed members of United Steelworkers (USW) in forestry or mining, to enhance skills and help them keep up with changes in industry and technology by providing free courses and training, said Tate.

“In this situation the mill is closing, so whatever skills or enhancements we give them is going to benefit them when that time comes.

“It really does put their minds at ease,” Tate said.

Tate says they’ve been involved in seven other mill closures, so they know the common pitfalls and understand the anxiety workers have.

“Traditionally what happens is [workers] will look up training and take a whole bunch of courses or training that really isn’t relevant,” he said.

Having talked to the mines, Tate says mines are looking for workers who are free of drugs and alcohol, have industrial experience, and show up for work on time.

“You don’t need to have a whole bunch of courses and training,” he said.

“We want to get rid of myth that if only they had one more certificate that would make them more hireable, because that’s just not the case. They’ve got all they need; they’ve got great transferable skills,” said Myrt Turner, NST Training Specialist.

Tate says they draw out the present skills workers have and often don’t recognize; many have good, transferable skills such as carpentry or mechanics, but they just think they are hobbies.

“They’re so used to going to work, ‘this is my job, and then I go home. And then at home I tear my car apart and rebuild my engine or I build a house,'” Tate said, adding that those are valuable skills to have.

After bringing out a worker’s present skills, NST helps them figure out how to use their skills to advance in the industry, and guides them in figuring out what upgrades and training they might need to get where they want to go.

Workers take an online essential skills assessment, which Tate says is a tool to help ensure success for the workers in the courses and training they need.

The assessment shows if the worker has the ability to successfully complete the training and it identifies basic skills, like math, computer skills or document use, which workers might need to upgrade before taking the training.

“We try to make it as easy as possible for them,” Tate said.

After the assessment, NST funds the workers’ training or upgrades, usually online, offering a computer skills course first for those who need it.

To help out workers with families and limited computer access, Tate says NST can loan workers a tablet, which is easy to use and is uploaded with necessary course materials.

Tate and Turner met with HFP workers at the mill last week Tuesday, to tell them about the program, and Tate said they had a very positive response.

“A lot of [the workers] were saying, ‘thanks for coming in, I feel a little bit better, not so scared and fearful of what’s coming down the pipe,'” Tate said.