Long-time Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) staff member Freda Lepine was recognized for her many years helping Indigenous youth receive training and find work with an award from the Manitoba Association for Career Development award in November.
Born on a trapline before her family moved to Wabowden, Lepine was well aware of the struggles young people face when moving to a larger community for employment, as she started high school in Winnipeg when she was 14, in a school with four times as many students as the entire population her hometown.
Over the years, through her involvement with MKO’s summer student commuter program, bringing people to Thompson for truck driving courses and with a program that trained process operators for Vale’s Manitoba Operations, Lepine came to see that a holistic view was needed. Whether someone will be successful in finding and keeping employment depends not only on technical training or education but also on other facors, such as whether they can find a place to stay while working, attending school or completing a training program. This, she said in her acceptance speech during the MACD’s virtual awards ceremony, makes having older and more experienced people around to help guide them crucial.
“I highly recommend mentors be attached to every training program,” she said. “As mentor, you see the struggles. Some are the regulations of the college, university or province, some are jurisdictional, some are lack of life skills. There are so many but they can be overcome if there is someone advocating for them. I am not saying that all students will succeed but it definitely makes a huge difference when they have someone encouraging them, when they are not near parents to help them.”
Partnerships are also key to helping youth find career success.
“It was extremely helpful to have willing companies that assisted in the work experience or the employment for students upon graduation,” Lepine said. “Vale hired almost all of our POinT [process operator in training] students and they are now actively employed in various departments within Vale, some are even shifts bosses or union reps, others moved to other employment such as Hudbay and other mining contractors, while the Class 1 drivers are out there driving those semis.”
Lepine was nominated for the individual leadership award in career and workforce development by Tara Ritchie from Vale Manitoba Operations, who worked with her on various training projects.