Micro-credential prepares Indigenous youth for future in agrifood

Photo provided by the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.

The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) is dedicated to ensuring Indigenous youth across the province are aware of and have access to employment opportunities in Saskatchewan’s most prosperous sectors. While agrifood processing isn’t a new sector in the province, it is growing—in both footprint and employment opportunities. So it was a natural choice for SIIT to add a program focused on the sector to its slate of offerings.

“SIIT hadn’t really offered a program in the agrifood industry previously, and then this was a really good opportunity for us to connect with industry partners and various First Nations communities across the province,” said SIIT’s Dean of Trades and Industrial Mark Pollard.

Launched in May 2022 in partnership with Whitecap Dakota First Nation and Protein Industries Canada, SIIT’s agrifood processing micro-credential gives Indigenous students the skills they need to secure a future in the agrifood sector. Built with input from a committee comprised of 12 agrifood companies, the program was designed to fill the sector’s growing labour gap, focusing on the skills and talent companies are most often looking for.

It was a collaborative process that’s had a successful result. From the program’s two cohorts so far, eight students have received offers of full-time employment.

Part of the reason for such a high post-graduate employment rate was industry’s high involvement throughout the program. In addition to helping develop the curriculum, industry members also joined classes as guest speakers, offered facility tours and hosted students for hands-on practicums. They also had their own opportunity to learn, through a Truth and Reconciliation Workshop that connected industry representatives with Indigenous Elders. Well-received, the workshop introduced industry partners to the role they have in Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation work and steps to take moving forward.

Photo provided by the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies.

Finally, industry has continued to offer feedback on the program at least once per year, helping to ensure it stays up-to-date with industry needs. Such heavy involvement means a successful program for students and industry alike.

“There's a labour shortage everywhere, and I think this was a really interesting initiative that SIIT could sort of provide the foundation to offer the specialized training that's required for individuals in the agrifood industry,” said Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Skills Development and Food Safety Programs Manager Erin Hiebert.

While dates for future cohorts are currently undecided, Pollard said there’s high interest from industry to continue the program. Not only are current industry partners eager to continue the micro-credential, but so are others SIIT hadn’t approached for involvement in the first two cohorts—such as grain elevators and microbreweries. He explained the school would be open to working with all of them, in order to strengthen the program and expand student opportunities.

Hiebert said such future, new partnerships are just as important to the program as their own was.

“The benefits are plentiful, especially to these students who complete the course,” said Hiebert. “They have a wide variety of certificates: first aid, forklift. They get background in food safety, occupational health and safety, sustainability. Their knowledge is so well-rounded that it's so rare, to be able to hire someone with that experience. It does nothing other than benefit the companies to hire students from that course.”

As important as these new partnerships are, so, too, are future students. Already students who took part in the program travelled across the province to encourage other Indigenous youth to consider their future in the agrifood sector through the program’s Youth Engagement Committee.