An innovative training programme has been developed to help prepare Aboriginal peoples living in Northern Manitoba, Canada, for jobs on hydroelectric projects


The Wuskwatim and Keeyask Training Consortium Inc. (WKTC) is a legal entity administering a multi-million dollar training initiative, referred to as the Hydro Northern Training and Employment Initiative (HNTEI). The initiative is designed to prepare northern Aboriginal residents for skilled labour positions related to the construction of the Wuskwatim and Keeyask generating stations. This expansion will be the single largest capital project in the province of Manitoba in the last two decades. The construction of the generating stations will make a significant contribution to the economy of Manitoba and Canada.

WKTC works with five Cree Nations (Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Tataskweyak Cree Nation, War Lake First Nation, Fox Lake Cree Nation and York Factory First Nation), Manitoba Keewatinowi Ininew Okimakanak, the Manitoba Metis Federation, Manitoba Hydro, the Province of Manitoba, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Western Economic Diversification and Human Resources and Social Development Canada to implement the initiative. Training is community controlled, with each of the Aboriginal stakeholder communities being responsible for designing and delivering training for their Members. The initiative emphasises the far-reaching implications of community capacity building.

Industry experts anticipate that Manitoba’s construction sector will face a boom that will last for several years. The industry will continue to create jobs and boost the province’s economy, though looming retirements will pose a challenge when it comes to replacing some skilled trades. To help meet these challenges, WKTC works with its government funders and Aboriginal Partners to ensure that people involved in the construction of the hydroelectric projects in northern Manitoba have access to training and employment opportunities that will prepare them to meet the needs of the industry.

Consistent with the opportunities presented by pre-project training, hydroelectric development, labour-market needs and long term visions for their communities, the Aboriginal Partners have identified within their plans activities to support capacity building in the areas of physical infrastructure, technology infrastructure, human resources, entrepreneurial and economic development within their communities.

‘Through developing partnerships with industry contractors, educational institutions and unions, individuals are provided with opportunities to gain on-the-job experience required to complement the in class training for apprenticeable trades,’ says Tataskweyak Cree Nation. ‘The financial contributions being made by Canada, Manitoba and Manitoba Hydro are being used by Tataskweyak, not only to prepare members for employment on the proposed hydro development projects, but also to build a workforce that can fill the growing shortage in the skilled trades. The women of our community have shown enormous strength and we are proud to support a number of them as they pursue careers in non-traditional fields.’


Manitoba Hydro, along with the Province of Manitoba have been working jointly with Aboriginal and northern communities to plan and assess potential impacts of new hydro developments to ensure local people share in the benefits of future hydro projects. The need to implement timely, community based training through the identification of labour market-related skills development and training for Aboriginal communities set in motion negotiations among key stakeholders. The development of the WKTC provided the main administrative and coordinating body to oversee the negotiations of contribution agreements, and administrative activities related to programmes and services provided to the participating Aboriginal communities and organisations. In January 2003, the parties to the HNTEI developed a Framework Agreement which was the product of several months of negotiation in understanding, recognising, and affirming the primary goals and objectives of each party.

The fundamental components of the Manitoba partnerships:

• Aboriginal Partners: will have the lead role and responsibility in the design, development, and delivery of community, multi-year training plans.

• Coordinating Committee: Aboriginal Partners will be responsible for optimising coordination of delivery, support and reporting activities across the initiative.

• Funders: will review and approve Aboriginal Partners annual training plans, disburse funds based on reports, and collaborate with the Aboriginal Partners in the coordination and integration of activities.

Hydro Northern Training and Employment Initiative

The purpose of the HNTEI is to provide training and employment opportunities to northern residents who will contribute to the labour resource required to support the Wuskwatim and proposed Keeyask hydroelectric development projects in northern Manitoba. It was recognised by all stakeholders at the onset of the project that there was a ‘skills-gap’ which had to be filled through skill development and specialised training. Partnership agreements were established to make certain that the most effective training and employment strategy was created to maximise the economic benefits for all Manitobans. Through a process of open discussions a mission statement was created to guide the objectives of the project.

Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership

The Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP) is a national programme that aims to help shape Canada’s workforce by directly matching skills development to economic opportunities. Officially launched in 2003 as an $85M five-year labour market initiative, ASEP’s overall objective is sustainable employment for Aboriginal peoples in major economic initiatives such as northern mining, oil and gas, and hydro development projects across Canada. ASEP is the Government of Canada’s commitment to work with Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders to provide high quality, culturally relevant training for Aboriginal learners, and help them to match training to real economic opportunities in collaboration with partners.

The federal government determined that HNTEI met the requirements of the ASEP programme and approved funding for the Wuskwatim and Keeyask Training Consortium.

In January, 2005 WKTC was established as the legal non-profit organisation responsible for disbursing the relevant combined resources of funding from HNTEI. The development of WKTC provided the main administrative and coordinating body to oversee the negotiations of contribution agreements and administrative activities related to programmes and services provided to the participating Aboriginal communities.

Overview of the initiative

Under the initiative, more than 1000 Northern Aboriginal people will receive training in a broad range of skills over a five-year interval to gain employment that reduces social dependency as well as the wage, economic, and skill level gaps between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals in the province. The overall cost of training has been estimated at $60M.

The initiative is addressing critical challenges in the labour market of the northern Aboriginal communities that it benefits. Based on Statistics Canada data for 2001, the unemployment rate in the communities ranges from 4-8 times the overall provincial average. The number of Northern Aboriginal people employed or looking for work is 59%, compared with 78% for the province. For Northern Aboriginals aged 25 and over, 61.9% have less than a high school graduation certificate, compared with 38.1% for the overall province.

Manitoba is experiencing significant construction growth throughout the province, and the demand for experienced, skilled workers is high. Most employers have identified skill shortages in a number of trades. Heavy equipment operators, mechanics and welders are in high demand throughout Manitoba, while there are continuing shortages of journeyperson electricians, plumbers and carpenters in northern Manitoba and Canada. Aboriginal participants trained to help build the proposed hydroelectric projects will have significant opportunities for long-term and sustainable employment.

The economic future of northern Manitoba is undermined when a significant percentage of its workforce is untrained, inadequately educated, underemployed, and unemployed. The initiative would address these challenges by training and finding employment for northern Aboriginal people on two large-scale economic hydroelectric developments, the first of which started in 2006.

Large construction projects

Wuskwatim and Keeyask are proposed hydroelectric generating stations in northern Manitoba. Construction of Wuskwatim, a 200MW generating station and associated transmission lines with a capital cost of $900M is currently underway and will continue throughout the next few years. Construction of Keeyask, a 620MW generating station with a capital cost of $1.45B is currently in negotiation.

The economic impact on Manitoba and Canada of building the projects gives some idea of their overall benefits to the economy. Employment and labour income for Manitoba will total $938.2M and for Canada, $1.52B. Employment for Manitoba will total 17,175 person-years and for Canada, 31,733.

Wuskwatim and Keeyask are estimated to offer 2040 jobs at peak construction, with 924 of these positions targeted for Northern Aboriginal people. The Initiative intends to place 794 of its training participants into these jobs.

Community-based training

Some 2610 candidates will be assessed, 1115 individuals will receive training, and an estimated 794 will complete the training in preparation for employment on the projects.

The Aboriginal Partners participating in this strategy have community-based employment and training infrastructures in place to develop and manage the components of the training and employment strategy. It has been demonstrated that community-based training increases participant success. Equally important is a training process that is highly flexible, allows for a mix of training interventions, both community-based and off-reserve, and responds as new/better training possibilities arise. For these reasons, partnerships with a wide range of public and private labour market partners are also critical to the success of the training and employment initiative. Partnerships will be forged with industry, unions, private and public educational institutions, government and NGOs.

Community-based delivery is not without challenges. Through partnerships with government, industry, regional education deliverers, and other labour market partners, strategies will be developed to capture capital projects (provincial and federal) and other regional employment opportunities for trainees as they proceed through their individual plans for employment on the construction sites. The partners will also work to strengthen recruitment of adult educators and development of training curricula to better meet learners’ needs.

The Aboriginal Partners will facilitate workforce development planning through a community-based model that links with Wuskwatim and Keeyask.

Capacity building in Aboriginal communities

One of the main findings in a report called Lessons Learned Summary Report, March 1999, commissioned by Human Resources Development Canada, is the need to ‘shift away from traditional approaches to economic and social development in Aboriginal communities’. The report further notes ‘…the inadequacy of programs and policies that fail to appreciate the interrelatedness of social and economic problems.’ For example, short-term employment and training programmes aimed at ‘kick-starting’ an individual’s career have been widely used. Yet these programmes have typically met with limited success because they do not address the social and systemic barriers that Aboriginal people face. Often, individual clients, and sometimes entire communities, must overcome an array of barriers, such as differences in language and culture, deficiencies in education, health problems, poverty, and isolation from markets. Surmounting these problems requires a comprehensive, long-term, community development approach rather than residual programming.

The Aboriginal community training plans for Wuskwatim and Keeyask emphasise the fundamental importance of capacity-building within the community as the key pillar of any holistic Aboriginal training strategy. Capacity building includes essential tools, such as self-confidence, knowledge, experience, skills, and training, which can be used to build the community’s human resource infrastructure. One of the greatest benefits of the training projects will be the development of well-trained and experienced personnel who will become available to fill key jobs and play leadership roles in the communities.

The HNTEI is designed to help the community-based training organisations involved in the projects acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to design and deliver community-based training plans. These organisations have access to professional advisors to work directly with community administrators and staff to:

• Develop and deliver internal training.

• Ensure that training projects are culturally sensitive and realistic.

• Design and implement management control and information systems.

• Install the project management and accountability structure required by funders.

• Develop a network of organisations and individuals, throughout Manitoba and Canada, who will help each local Aboriginal training and employment centre realise its objectives of becoming a training administrative organisation and provider of employment placement services to trainee participants.

The capacity building strategy also includes training sessions on networking, organisation policy development, client assessments, and counselling. The overall outcome will not only be the creation of a well-trained and prepared work force for Wuskwatim and Keeyask, but also the creation of a strong and dynamic local regime for human resource development at the community level, for spin-off benefits in all aspects of community development.

Of the total initiative funds allocated to Wuskwatim and Keeyask, 75% will be allocated to the Cree Nations in the immediate area of the projects. The remaining 25% will be allocated for other northern Aboriginals. The Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. (MKO) and the Manitoba Métis Federation Inc. (MMF) administer the annual and multi-year training plans for other Northern Aboriginal people who are not in the immediate area of the projects.

Learning from the past

As a result of lessons learned from past experiences, the design and delivery of training programmes is now in the hands of the participating Aboriginal communities. Training activities have already started to provide lead time to ensure that participants are qualified and job-ready when the jobs arise. Partnerships with employers have already resulted in job placements to complement training, allowing participants to accumulate valuable on-the-job work hours. Community-based retention and support services are in place to support participant success in training and employment.


Members of the Wuskwatim and Keeyask Training Consortium Inc. have created partnerships with more than 20 training institutions, educational institutions, and private sector and business associations in Manitoba. The partnerships were formed to help Aboriginal people find jobs and to help northern Aboriginal communities and entrepreneurs build the capacity and institutions needed to attain economic self-sufficiency.

The key factors driving these partnerships are as follows:

• Aboriginal communities within the hydroelectric development region of Manitoba are gaining considerable influence over access to resources through environmental approval processes and permit processes. Partnerships between Manitoba Hydro and the northern Aboriginal communities build community support for resource development and other land uses.

• Partnerships with the corporate sector are helping Northern Manitoba Aboriginal communities and entrepreneurs build
the capacity and the institutions needed to attain economic

• Partnerships with major business associations and unions, such as the Manitoba Heavy Equipment Construction Association and the Teamsters Union, help Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations realise the opportunities that are emerging as a result of Aboriginal labour market demographic trends. Manitoba’s Aboriginal population is growing rapidly and changing dramatically. With this, new employees are becoming available.

• Many of Manitoba’s non-Aboriginal businesses are attracted to partnership by growing opportunities in Northern Aboriginal markets. Population growth, a surge in Aboriginal entrepreneurship, and increased financial strength from land settlements are all working together to increase the purchasing power of Aboriginal peoples, communities, and businesses.

Benefits beyond the projects

Pre-project training that results in jobs on Wuskwatim and Keeyask projects will provide extensive and enduring benefits, including:

• A workforce will be created with the skills to get jobs on other major Manitoba projects on the planning horizon over the next decades.

• Training will create capacity in the communities for training expertise to prepare more Aboriginal people to find employment on jobs that lie ahead. It will also develop well-trained and experienced personnel who will then become available to the communities at large to fill key jobs, take leadership roles, and develop entrepreneurial business opportunities.

• The quality of life for Northern Aboriginal people will improve through greater economic activity and increased employment and income levels – all of which have been shown to reduce social dependencies.

Wuskwatim and Keeyask are mega-projects that offer an ideal opportunity to train and employ Northern Aboriginal people in Manitoba. The projects are in the midst of the Aboriginal communities where prospective trainees live and they offer numerous and varied opportunities for work. Training will be community-based to ensure effectiveness, and the skill sets acquired are transferable to other construction projects, setting the stage for a lifetime of self-sufficiency as well as improved socio-economic conditions in the communities.

Heavy Equipment Operator graduates involved in the Hydro Northern Training and Employment Initiative Figure 1 Typical northern Manitoba waterway Figure 2 Naomi Williams receives her certificate for Heavy Equipment Operator from Raymond Spence, of War Lake. War Lake worked with Manitoba Heavy Equipment Association, Terry Sakiyama of Patal Vocational and Calvin Pompana of White Buffalo Spiritual Society (lefFigure 3 Tataskweyak Cree Nation member, Donald Keeper, on site at a Manitoba Hydro generating station Figure 4 On site at a Manitoba Hydro generating station in Northern Manitoba Figure 5 Author Info:

Submitted by the Wuskwatim and Keeyask Training Consortium. For more information visit