Kahkewistahaw Gas & Convenience Store Recognized for Outstanding Customer Service and Sales Growth Thanks to Essential Skills Training at Parkland Regional College

"It helped point out what my abilities are, and what I am to the whole team. Whether you are a leader or not, your effort counts just as much." - Vallerie Pelletier

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…

"Our First Nations people are realizing that they are now changing to be involved in an economic industry, taking responsibility for their own growth." - Albert (Bud) Wasacase

“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.

"Training was great. It made me think a lot and I learned a lot about my self and my co-workers" - Ivan Cote

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”.

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Parkland College Brings New Program to Saskatchewan

On Aug. 5, 2008 Parkland College welcomed the first set of students to what is the only Professional Fire Fighter training program in province. In partnership with fire etc. of Vermillion, AB, Parkland College is training 24 students in a 12 week program being held in Melville, SK.

Currently there are no other pre-employment firefighter training programs offered in Saskatchewan. Prior to the introduction of this course at Parkland College, students seeking professional training enrolled in courses at the fire etc. site in Vermilion, Alberta, at Emergency Services College in Brandon, Manitoba or part-time through local fire departments. Students enrolled in the program come from all regions of the province as well as Alberta.

To recognize the community support and kick-off this unique program being held in Saskatchewan, Parkland College hosted a media conference and ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 12th at the Melville Fire Hall with representatives from fire etc., the Provincial Government, City of Melville, City of Yorkton, Fire Commission and Saskatchewan Fire Fighter Association being present to help celebrate and talk about the opportunities the new Firefighting Training program has brought to Saskatchewan.

“Parkland College has received full support from the City of Melville and their fire department, the Yorkton Fire Department, the Saskatchewan Volunteer Firefighters Association, the Office of the Fire Commissioner, and the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour for this venture,” says Larry Pearen, Skills Training Manager, who is coordinating the Fire Fighter program at Parkland College.

“Thanks to the City of Melville agreeing to supply a training facility, a fire truck, access to some of their equipment and access to the old Melville hospital for rescue training and activities most of the training can be done on location”, explains Pearen. Students will be required to go to Vermilion for two weeks to complete some of the practical training that requires highly specialized equipment. The Lakeland College training field includes multiple storey structural towers, a dangerous goods training area, and props that simulate industrial and residential fires, vehicle extrications and aircraft crash rescues.

Parkland College has also received a large funding contribution from Advanced Education, Employment, & Labour to assist in start-up of the new program.

Pearen stated that “Parkland College is excited to work with fire etc. The College’s International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) accreditation and the support of the provincial Fire Commissioner’s Office will provide students with assurance that their credentials will be recognized by fire protection services throughout the province.” This program will give students a competitive edge and be beneficial to those interested in seeking a position as a career firefighter in a municipal or industrial setting.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard 1001 – Fire Fighter Professional Qualifications is widely endorsed by departments as a necessary credential for new hires. This program exceeds the requirement set out by the NFPA and includes more practice runs and other hands-on skill building.

24 students is the maximum number of students Parkland College can train at one time. The next intake is scheduled for early 2009 with a substantial waiting list already in order.

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