The provincial government is hoping to encourage more aboriginals to capitalize on what will be a huge demand for skilled tradespeople.

On Wednesday, it announced an investment of more than a half a million dollars for a program to help First Nations and Metis get the skills, certificates and experience needed to work in the booming construction and industrial trades sector.

The giant-sized cheque was presented to the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies (SIIT) in Regina to help fund its construction careers program. It is one of eight such programs being offered at various SIIT centres around the province.

The goal is to provide First Nations and Metis people with the background and experience they need for jobs ranging from carpentry to working the mines, and anything in between. Additional supports beyond training include coaching, mentoring and helping the students land jobs.

One of the students is Ken Bigsky. He is already a third-year apprentice, going for his journeyman ticket.  He was worked in heavy construction and is optimistic about his future.

“It’s really good money,” he said. “It is something to be proud of when you drive past something you have built. Words can’t explain how you feel inside about something you have done.”

Brent Sunshine is an instructor at SIIT. A few years ago, he was in Bigsky’s shoes – taking carpentry at the institute. He has not looked back since and recommends the program to anyone who wants to make a good living and have a secure income.

“Yeah, this is the place to be especially in the industries, the way they are booming, yeah,  this is a great place to be,” he said.

Jobs minister Jeremy Harrison acknowledges more needs to be done to reduce aboriginal unemployment, but he says progress is being made. He says 11,000 more aboriginals are employed in Saskatchewan than there were eight years ago. Harrison says the aim is to keep that number growing.

“So we are making strides, we know we still have challenges in that area,” he said. “The numbers are moving in the right direction and we are going to make sure those investments to ensure they keep moving in that direction.”

The construction careers program at the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies is being offered in La Ronge, Creighton, Meadow Lake, North Battleford, Prince Albert, Yorkton, Saskatoon and Regina.

The program has been running for 17 years. More than 3,000 people will enroll in the program this year alone.