This fall, 200 Indigenous students in Manitoba will receive a financial award from the Business Council of Manitoba (BCM). All 200 students will be eligible for a work-placement opportunity in summer 2024 at BCM member businesses as a part of a joint education and employment program.
For the last two decades, BCM’s Indigenous Education Awards (IEA) program has financially supported over 1500 Indigenous students in Manitoba pursuing post-secondary education with a $3000 award for the academic year. The program has distributed $8 million in the form of 2900 awards that can be used for tuition and other supports to alleviate financial stress during the academic year.
The IEA program is partnered with, and funded by, the federal and provincial governments, the Winnipeg Foundation, and BCM members.
A 2021 review of the IEA program facilitated by the University of Winnipeg found that Indigenous students who received the award were 3.6 times more likely to graduate post-secondary than those who did not. The study also recommended these students would benefit from increased employment opportunities.
Over the last year, the BCM established a program expansion to address the gap between post-secondary education and employment opportunities by implementing the Work Integrated Learning (WIL) program.
“First, we want to help Indigenous students find their success and achieve their academic goals—attaining employment is the next step,” says Jesse Steckley, manager of the Work Integrated Learning program.
The BCM represents over 100 of Manitoba’s leading businesses in more than ten diverse industries. The apparent collaboration was to use the membership network to connect IEA recipients with work placements at member businesses. The goal is to increase Indigenous representation in the Manitoba workforce.
“There’s a lot of hidden talent in Indigenous people that is just waiting to be unlocked,” says Kendra Bouchie, IEA Recipient, WIL Participant, and BCM’s soon-to-be IEA manager. “The more business leaders acknowledge and understand that the more Indigenous people will help make their companies thrive.”
In May 2023, Bouchie started as the WIL student program coordinator at the BCM. In October, she will be taking over the IEA program manager position as long-time manager, Christina Kowall, sets her sights on a well-deserved retirement. “When you’re given an opportunity like this, you have loyalty, determination, and resilience to do anything in your power to make your ideas succeed,” says Bouchie.
Bouchie enrolled at the University of Manitoba in 2022 after receiving her GED at the Winnipeg Adult Education Centre. She received the IEA and said it helped immensely with her finances, allowing her to focus on her studies. “I didn’t have to worry. It took a lot off my plate with bills and rent,” says Bouchie. “Without the stress I was able to get good grades and finished my first year with straight A’s.”
Bouchie was one of the first WIL participants before the program officially launched. In summer of 2022 an intern position opened at Mondetta Clothing Inc., and the BCM asked if Bouchie was interested.
Mondetta CEO and co-founder, Ash Modha, is a member of the BCM, co-chair of the Economic Reconciliation committee, and a generous supporter of the IEA program. In February 2023, Mondetta announced a donation of $150,000 to the program alongside two internship opportunities.
Bouchie took the intern position in apparel development support. She credits the positive work placement experience at Mondetta to the inclusive and diverse environment. “It was a welcoming and inviting place—it made me want to work harder for them, do a better job, and show up every day for them,” says Bouchie.
Steckley is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe/German) from Wasauksing First Nation (Ontario), and Bouchie is Anishinaabe from Minegoziibe First Nation Treaty 4 (Pine Creek, Manitoba). They both believe that cultural competency and training are crucial aspects of a healthy and inclusive work environment and directly affect the work placement’s success.
Steckley incorporated mandatory cultural competency training for students and businesses participating in the WIL program. “It educates the staff and the people the students are working with, and as a result, helps the students find success because they’ll want to be at the workplace,” says Steckley. “They’ll feel accepted, as they should, no matter where they work.”
Bouchie says businesses that participate in cultural competency training make her feel more comfortable working there. Understanding Indigenous perspectives and points of view is important and shows her we are moving in the right direction. “If we keep doing what we’re doing, my children won’t have to walk into a workplace and face the barriers that I have before, and that’s what I am trying to accomplish,” says Bouchie.
For 2023-2024, the number of IEAs distributed has doubled, growing from 100 to 200 awards. BCM’s president and CEO, Bram Strain, says the significant growth is because of member interest and conviction in the WIL program. “The members are invested in this program because they know it’s a crucial investment to our community’s future and our province’s workforce development,” says Strain.
The inaugural year of the WIL program had nine students placed at member businesses—Staffmax Staffing & Recruiting, Transcona Roofing, Mondetta Clothing Inc., and Okimaw HR Solutions. Steckley says the first year they were working out the growing pains of a new program but now with student capacity, funding, and member interest all in place, they’re set up for a successful year of education and employment. This year, the BCM hopes to see 80 students placed at member businesses. “Our members know there is a real opportunity to grow and expand the Indigenous workforce with these programs, and they want to be a part of the process,” says Strain.
Both Steckley and Bouchie believe making these connections between member businesses and Indigenous students are steps in the right direction toward reconciliation. “I think that’s when real reconciliation will start to happen,” says Bouchie. “When Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are on the same page and working together toward the same goals.”
For more information on the IEA and WIL programs please visit businesscouncil.mb.ca