November 2, 2020 - A new group of FortisBC graduates are ready to hit the job site thanks to a special program.

FortisBC along with Okanagan Training Development Council (OTDC), and program host, Westbank First Nation, recently graduated 10 new participants from Residential Energy and Efficiency Works (REnEW), a program that provides entry-level construction skills and energy efficiency training to people that have faced barriers to employment.

“We really admire the dedication and commitment of this year’s participants,” said Ned Georgy, program manager, conservation and energy management,” FortisBC.

“For many, this was their first experience on a construction site and we saw their confidence grow daily as they learned each new skill. Much of this success is due to the partnership with OTDC and the support of Westbank First Nation; we’re very grateful for their contributions.”

The aim of REnEW is to provide participants with the confidence to seek and achieve new goals and opportunities in the construction industry and provide local builders with access to safety-trained employees who have an understanding of energy-efficiency best practices.
Working with mentors and industry professionals from WIBCO Construction, this year’s participants completed a small-scale demonstration building—complete with insulation, windows and siding—after receiving two weeks of in-class training and earning up to eight safety-related certificates such as WHMIS and First Aid. They also completed an additional week of training to earn their small machinery operator’s licence. The completed building, located next to the Westbank First Nation Community Garden, will provide long-term value as a shed for food and equipment storage.

“We originally had a different project in mind but pivoted to an outdoor structure so that COVID social distancing practices could be better maintained,” said Georgey.

“It turned out to be a great choice – constructing a small building helped participants see a project from start to finish and gain experience in a wider range of construction and energy efficiency techniques.”

The journey will continue after graduation for these participants. OTDC, this year’s REnEW delivery partner, has a depth of experience providing training programs and services that support Indigenous individuals in attaining meaningful employment. OTDC will support participants through two weeks of work experience on a real construction site and continue to mentor them for a period of up to three months as they search for related job opportunities or navigate related post-secondary programs. In fact, four of this year’s participants plan to pursue education opportunities in trades and may be eligible for further help through a scholarship from FortisBC.

“The ultimate goal is economic sustainability – getting a decent job to support your family,” said Karen Abramsen, manager, OTDC. “The skills the students learn through REnEW and having access to funding for further training, helps them carve a path for a better future.”

These 10 graduates join the 122 proud graduates who have gained marketable and employable skills through REnEW since 2010.