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10 students join inaugural Nakusp BladeRunners program

Above: Some of the BladeRunner participants and instructors before going out to the field. Back row, from left: Tristan Townsend, Daniel Ponto, Brandon Wanstall, Immanuel Ens-Palmer and Guy Duchaine, program facilitator. Front row, left: Alexandra Krajewski, job coach, Natasha MacCreadie. and Alisha Robertson. - Alex Cooper/Arrow Lakes News
Above: Some of the BladeRunner participants and instructors before going out to the field. Back row, from left: Tristan Townsend, Daniel Ponto, Brandon Wanstall, Immanuel Ens-Palmer and Guy Duchaine, program facilitator. Front row, left: Alexandra Krajewski, job coach, Natasha MacCreadie. and Alisha Robertson.
— image credit: Alex Cooper/Arrow Lakes News

On my first day walking into the new Nakusp BladeRunner program at Selkirk College, Marvin Robert of Marvin's Small Motor Repair was giving a lesson on chainsaw sharpening. He had an over-sized chainsaw bit in his hand as he explained how to properly sharpen them.

Students had their files and were going bit by bit along their saws to get them ready for work.

On my second visit, a cold Tuesday morning, program facilitator Guy Duchaine was talking about his experiences in the Arctic, talking about what real cold weather feels like.

On my third visit, I hung around as the students slowly trickled in to the classroom before heading out to the field for a chainsaw operating session.

The BladeRunner program is now into its third week at Selkirk College in Nakusp. The program offers life skills and basic forestry training for youth aged 15–30 who are struggling to find work.

In Nakusp, the 10 participants are receiving entry-level forestry training in addition to a number of tickets like First Aid, WHMIS, computer courses, several safety course and more. All told they will receive 10 different certificates, key amongst them chainsaw training.

BladeRunners is a 20-year-old program that was developed to give youth struggling with employment the training they need. It has been held up as an example of a successful job training program and was recently mentioned in a Maclean's magazine article about job training programs. The program is a combination of classroom and field work, and on-the-job training. In Nakusp, the focus on the program is on forestry training.

The program was brought to Nakusp thanks to the collaboration of several community groups. Arrow & Slocan Lakes Community Services help create a social enterprise to provide students with work experience. NACFOR is donating up to 10 loads of birch trees for the students to turn into firewood. The Nakusp & Area Development Board provided a $3,500 grant to the program.

All three organizations have made $10,000 loans to the program that will be paid back once the firewood is sold; a Calgary business has already agreed to purchase the wood.

"All these community groups came together to work on that social enterprise piece to make it possible to give these youth the work experience," said Ulli Mueller, the program's coordinator. “It’s unbelievable how great everyone has been.”

Students in the program are supported on their way through by Duchaine, who is acting as a mentor for the students as they gain work experience, and Alexandra Krajewski, who is acting as a job coach.

I spoke to two of the program's participants — Immanuel Ens-Palmer and Tristan Townsend.

Ens-Palmer, 18, is a recent graduate from Nakusp Secondary School. He told me he registered at the behest of his best friend. His main interest was in getting the certificates through the course. "Practical experience in forestry and for personal knowledge, the first aid and WHMIS, I thought it was good knowledge to have," he said.

His goal isn't a career in forestry, but is to eventually go to university.

Townsend, 22, has similar goals. He told me his dream is to be a helicopter pilot, though he hopes to attend engineering school. In recent years he has worked in carpentry and maintenance but he said he was looking for a career change so he could make more money before going back to school.

"I thought it was a good way to change up. It seemed like a good situation for me," he said.

 

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