Partnership between Northern College, Keepers of the Circle brings trades learning to remote communities

If you live in a remote community, accessing education and training isn't always easy.

4 trailers converted into mobile skills training units

A carpenter kneels and staples a two-by-four.
A partnership between Northern College and Keepers of the Circle uses specially-designed mobile trailers to bring educational resources that are focused on the trades to remote communities. (Oscar Baker III/CBC)

If you live in a remote community, accessing education and training isn't always easy.

But a partnership between Northern College and Keepers of the Circle is bringing trades training directly to First Nations in northern Ontario.

The college and the Indigenous hub first partnered back in 2020, and have since worked together on projects in several communities. 

Now, they've converted four trailers that will help bring training – including carpentry, plumbing, and electrical – to communities throughout the north.

Kathy Lajeunesse, liason with Keepers of the Circle, said there are still plenty of barriers to program delivery in northern Ontario and especially in remote communities. 

"Not all members can afford to come out of their communities to attend college," Lajeunesse said. "Some programs are not available in their locations, and whether that be college or university, we were wanting to bridge that gap and to bring this opportunity to the community to help them build their infrastructure."

One of the projects, for example, was called the Land Based Healing Camp Building, and took place 100 kilometres outside of Cochrane on traditional hunting grounds.

"Members spent about six weeks out there with all of the construction tools and ended up building three campys," Lajeunesse said. "Whether it had bunk beds or whether it had a queen size bed or singles in it, there is now the ability for local people to go out on the land and experience the land based healing, which is very different than traditional healing from trauma."

Two trailers are parked by the road side.
Trailers like these pictured above, have been modified and outfitted to bring educational resources to remote communities. (Submitted by Kathy Lajeunesse)

Lajeunesse said people who took part emerged with a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

"Some of the people had an interest in construction and an interest in helping," she said. "Maybe they were lured because of the cultural aspect or maybe they were lured because they want to learn more about construction, but everyone, whether it was men or women, everyone was just so proud of their accomplishments and showing off what they had built with their own bare hands."

"They had no idea that they could do this," she said. "So it definitely inspired confidence as well as giving them skills that were the equivalent of a level one construction requirement."

Christine Heavens, the executive director, community, business development and employment services at Northern College, said the programs typically run 15-16 weeks, focusing on embedding culture and traditional knowledge through its delivery.

The mobile trailers, so far, can support welding, carpentry and construction, and they're hoping to outfit a trailer to support plumbing and electrical basics, Heavens said. 

"Our fourth trailer is we're hoping to design is for small engine, but at this point it is equipped for us to help bring materials and supplies to the site."

Not only does the program connect community members with traditional teaching and provide a cultural touchstone through education, but can also provide some help for the country's skilled trades shortage.

"Unless there's some skilled trades people who can help develop apprentices, communities have a harder time in getting those skilled trades," Heavens said. "And often they're having to secure the expertise remotely and have a contractor come in."

"Being able to develop those skills locally allows the funds that would be used for the construction or the development or whatever the work is to stay local within the community as well," she said.

"It really is a significant benefit to community economic success."