BY TARA McCARTHY

Tucked away in the industrial area of Whitehorse is a small office focused on huge opportunities.

Dan Curtis says he could probably go on all day about the possibilities out there for young workers, as the buzz and beeping of heavy machinery filters through his window.

Curtis is the executive director of Skills Canada Yukon.

“Pretty much birth to 30 is our focus,” he says. “We just try really hard to reposition trades and technology as a viable career choice for Yukon youth to address the trades shortage that we’re facing worldwide.”

Skills Canada is a national non-profit organization that uncovers career options that many young people may not be aware of or see as something they want to pursue. Curtis says they provide free hands-on training through a series of skills shops or skills clubs.

While the main hubs have always been Whitehorse, Dawson City and Watson Lake, he says they’ve branched out into smaller regions.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time in the communities, so now we have many skills clubs and what they’re most proud of is the sustainability. Many of these clubs have been up for about two, two and a half years.”

The programs have been gaining popularity and Curtis attributes the success to community input.

“Instead of offering welding or sheet metal or something to that degree, we’d say ‘what exactly are you guys interested in?'” Curtis explains.

“In Pelly, for instance, we would think that everyone has a Ski-doo or a chainsaw, so they might be interested in small engine repair. But they were very interested in TV and video, which is one of the trades and technology that we promote.”

There is no academic requirement to participate – it’s all about engaging youth in a way that might not normally be accessible. And Curtis says the participants truly benefit.

“What really surprises them is when they start to hone their skills, not only their peers but professional agencies recognize their skill level and start actually hiring them and offering them employment,” he says. “A lot of our participants are actually looked at as role models.”

Skills Canada has been in the Yukon for about 10 years, connecting young people with industry professionals. They act as mentors, sharing their expertise in a variety of skills areas from aesthetics and cooking, to graphic design and plumbing.

Curtis says the training provides the fundamentals, zeros in on safety and rights on the job and gives participants insight into their future.

“Like if they’re about to take a pre-employment program at the college in carpentry and think they love carpentry, but they’ve never tried it. So they take it with Skills Canada Yukon and find out ‘you know what? I’m wrong,'” he says.

“Which is not a bad thing, but at least instead of realigning their whole life, they’re going to know right away.”

With positive feedback pouring in, Curtis says the workshops have proved to be excellent self-esteem builders. And in the end, those opportunities have also built a flourishing community of skilled workers and mentors.