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Jobs may be best Olympic legacy for First Nations

Additional job fairs coming this winter



For years it appeared that the greatest legacy the First Nations would get from the 2010 Olympics was the global exposure of their culture.

But it is becoming clear that the employment opportunities and the relationships being built between First Nations and companies looking for workers may be the greatest lasting legacy.

"Our vision is that through the Games we are creating opportunities for employers to see who we are," said Squamish Chief Bill Williams.

He pointed to the fact that within his nation 60 per cent of the population is under 25 and looking for opportunities in the workforce. This is in sharp contrast to the general population, which is aging and has a low birth rate.

"When companies see our young population they want to encourage them to learn about the companies because they are local and so are we," said Williams.

In the last few months employment job fairs have been held in both Squamish and  Vancouver as a way of connecting First Nations and other workers with Olympic job opportunities.

While these jobs may be Olympic-related many of the companies are big employers and with skill sets in place First Nations workers are poised to take advantage of future opportunities.

Sodexo, a large national company contracted to provide catering, housekeeping, laundry and hospitality services for the two athletes' villages, has hired scores of First Nations staff already through the job fairs.

Contemporary Security Canada, contracted to provide security at the Games venues, needs 5,000 workers. The company is willing to train all applicants, leaving employees with a marketable skill post Games.

"The legacy will be that we have people in the community who want to contribute to the general economy of Vancouver, the corridor and B.C. as a whole and in doing so they will become self-sufficient and be able to sustain themselves without help from different levels of government," said Williams.

Peter Natrall, the 2010 Olympic coordinator for the Squamish First Nation, said the employment fairs have been a great success.

"There is even demand for another hiring fair so we will be planning one for the end of November," he said.

"I think it provides field experience in many different areas for First Nations people, which could be in catering services, trades and labour, administration even security services, and I think this could be an asset to anyone seeking employment."

Natrall said First Nations employees are attractive at Games time because they live in the corridor. But this also makes them very attractive to resort employers.

At a recent Whistler Chamber of Commerce luncheon Whistler Blackcomb's Joel Chevalier, director of employee experience, said working with the First Nations Employment Society (FNES, this season had been a very positive experience.

"This has been a really great partnership," said Chevalier at the lunch.

"I would encourage any (employer) to seek them out and find out more about the program."

Natrall said First Nations people are interested in all types of work but one of the most interesting to them is the culinary arts and catering area.

He is hopeful that more opportunities lie ahead.

"I think through the relationships we are generating we would like to strengthen them and embrace them," he said.

"And then, also, we would welcome any new relationships that might arise from being a (2010 Games) Host First Nation."