Making connections

PrairiesCan contributes $1.3M to Business Council of Manitoba program connecting Indigenous students with employers


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As a young Metis student at the Asper School of Business 20 years ago, Richard Marchetti felt thrilled and honoured to receive a scholarship from the Business Council of Manitoba that covered about 85 per cent of the tuition cost for a year.

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As a young Metis student at the Asper School of Business 20 years ago, Richard Marchetti felt thrilled and honoured to receive a scholarship from the Business Council of Manitoba that covered about 85 per cent of the tuition cost for a year.

But after that he was on his own.

Fast forward 20 years and Marchetti is now the president and owner of Transcona Roofing, a 68-year-old company with close to 100 employees.

A couple of years ago, Marchetti reached out to Bram Strain, the CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba (BCM), because he wanted to pay back the scholarship so that someone else might benefit.

“I felt like I was fortunate and I wanted to give back,” he said.

But he also wanted Strain to know that support connecting with employers after graduation was something that was missing for him and other students who received the BCM’s Indigenous student scholarships.

For instance, when Marchetti, who received his accounting designation, got his first job at Cargill, he couldn’t figure out how to use the fax machine.

“Getting job experience is maybe even more valuable than the cost of tuition,” he said.

Strain was already aware of the issue and had already done a review of the business group’s Indigenous scholarship program. While the study showed that scholarship students were almost four times more likely to graduate from university than their peers, Strain said, “We also realized there was a gap in the program. We were providing funding but not connecting people to employment.”

On Wednesday, Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan, formerly Western Economic Diversification) announced a $1.3-million contribution for three years to BCM’s new Workplace Integrated Learning program.

The program will connect BCM’s Indigenous scholarship students with BCM members for summer, and hopefully permanent, employment in their respective fields of study. The funds will be used to provide a stipend to the students and subsidize the cost of salaries to employers.

BCM will also run cultural competency training for employers and create a network so that grads can connect with each other and will also pay for support staff for new grads to call to talk about issues or challenges in the workplace.

Marchetti’s timely outreach to BCM landed him a membership in the BCM — an exclusive group of about 90 of the largest employers in the province. He is the first scholarship recipient to become a member of BCM

“The mentorship is amazing,” he said. “Just to be able to sit at the table listen and absorb and hear from people who have been through it before, it really helps.”

Last year the BCM provided scholarships to 140 Indigenous students. This year that number will double and BCM members have doubled their investment in the program.

“This is economic reconciliation in action,” said Strain. “It’s going to increase Indigenous representation in the workforce. I hope we are wildly successful and then members will give more money back and there will be more money for more students.”

The thinking is that with a troublingly tight labour market — and with Indigenous people the fastest-growing segment of the population — when employers become more successful hiring Indigenous workers there will be no need to subsidize their salaries and the program will become autonomous after three years.

The BCM funding was one of 16 Indigenous projects that received about $13.5 million from PrairiesCan and other federal programs.

The largest of the bunch was $6.3 million to Ka Ni Kanichihk to build an addition to its centre at 455 McDermot Ave. that will include a clinic and commercial kitchen.

Dodie Jordaan, executive director said the addition will triple its capacity to be a welcoming presence for Indigenous people that includes a 24-7 safe space for women, youth mentorship and programs for youth who have had exposure to the justice system.

Other programs that received funding include:

– $750,000 for Poplar River First Nation to install a new dock to replace one that washed away, which will become a cargo depot for the community that had to fly in fuel this past year;

– $750,000 to build a pavilion for public gatherings in Norway House First Nation;

– $750,000 for Gamble First Nation to build a modern traditional Ojibway longhouse in Binscarth;

– $1.4 million for Purpose Construction that involves building affordable single family homes in the North End and training urban Indigenous people in residential new home construction;

– $750,000 for Barren Lands First Nation to renovate a community centre and band hall in Brochet; and

– $540,000 for the Assiniboia Residential School Legacy Group to build a commemoration at the former Assiniboia Residential School.

Martin Cash

Martin Cash

Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.

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