The next time you visit Yorkton, Saskatchewan, drop by the Kahkewistahaw Gas & Convenience Store. It is more than your average service station – it’s an award-winning operation, thanks in part to a commitment to developing employees’ Essential Skills. A training program being offered at Parkland Regional College.
When General Manager Doug McRae was hired in 2005 by Kahkewistahaw Band to run the newly constructed gas and convenience store, his mandate was clear: create employment for First Nations people and help them develop skills for success in the workplace.
Only a few years later, McRae has achieved the goal and more. The people he’s hired have not only increased their skills and boosted their self-confidence; they’re part of a team that has been recognized for outstanding customer service and sales growth.
But it wasn’t easy…
“The first group of employees was diverse”, says McRae. “They were 18 to 60 years old, and they had anywhere between a Grade 8 education and some post-secondary”.
His first task was to assess their skills and build a team, which he did with the help of Parkland Regional College. Before the service station opened, the 17 new hires attended a seven-week program at Parkland Regional College where they bench marked their Essential Skills with a TOWES (Test of Workplace Essential Skills) assessment.
“Even though we explained what TOWES is about and that you couldn’t fail, the participants were stressed before the test,” explains Susan Lyons, Career and Student Support Services Manager at Parkland Regional College. “We learned that you have to take more than 45 minutes to explain it.”
McRae agrees. “You have to sit down with all the folks and talk about what you are trying to do and what your objectives are.”
When the results were in, employees did better than they expected, and it motivated them to learn. McRae recalls one employee who really changed his attitude about his abilities. “He said, ‘You know, I could be a lawyer’.”
Using the College’s resources and the Measure Up website (http://measureup.towers.com), participants increased their essential Skills scores, often by one or two full levels. They also received training in everything from e-mail etiquette and customer conflict to handling dangerous chemicals. To prepare for working as a team, they explored personality styles and, on their return to the worksite, they had a chance to practice their skills before the gas and convenience store opened its doors.
The program was offered through JobStart/Future Skills, a provincially-funded partnership program, with support by a national Essential Skills project to integrate Essential Skills in the workplace.
Since the gas and convenience store opened in 2004, two employee groups have completed the program.
“Some have stayed long-term with Doug and others have moved on to bigger and better things,” explains Lyons, and that’s okay with him. We often see people come back to the College for other programs because they are excited about learning.”
McRae says there are many opportunities for staff who wish to stay. ‘The Band is developing the 11 acres we site on. There will be a hotel, an office complex and a new casino. We’ll need staff”.