On Oct. 12, the Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office, Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey, Nova Scotia Community College, and IBM announced a partnership to deliver the Unama’ki P-TECH School Model to Indigenous youth in Nova Scotia.

ESKASONI: A new school has been launched with an eye toward creating jobs, and providing skills and education for Indigenous youth across Cape Breton.

The Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO), Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK) and Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), along with IBM Canada, announced on Oct. 12 that they are partnering to deliver the Unama’ki P-TECH School Model (Pathways in Technology, Early College High School). According to IBM Canada, this marks the opening of the first ever Mi’kmaw P-TECH school based in Eskasoni with the first cohort of students being from three Unama’ki communities, including We’koqma’q First Nation.

Jen Roynon, IBM Canada’s lead for corporate social responsibility, told The Reporter that the P-TECH model is being used in more than 250 schools in 28 countries around the world. She said the Eskasoni school is focused on software engineering, and the plan is to add a cohort of students each year.

“What it really focuses on is giving youth access to education and skills development aligned to in demand jobs in the local market place,” she explained.

The Unama’ki P-TECH model offers integrated high school and college curriculum focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), IBM Canada noted.

“As Nova Scotia’s community college, we are always looking for ways to connect students to industry and cultivate events, activities and pathways that will augment their educational pursuits,” Andrew Lafford, NSCC Dean, Technology and Environment said. “This is a perfect example of one of those important partnerships. We’re thrilled to work with IBM, MEBO and MK, supporting the P-TECH program participants from the Unama’ki First Nation communities as they continue on their journey towards success.”

The company said it will enable Unama’ki students to graduate with a high school diploma, and a tuition-free, industry-aligned, two-year college diploma, with workplace experiences within six years or less.

“They’ll be doing duel crediting, like integrated curriculum,” Roynon said. “It can take four to six years to get their high school diploma. They’ll get their college diploma from NSCC, which would be the two-year software engineering diploma. Then throughout the four to six years, they’ll have workplace integrated learning.”

Hallmarks of the program include industry one-on-one mentoring, workplace visits, paid summer internships, and to be considered as first-in-line for interviews regarding open positions, IBM Canada said.

“There’s no guarantee of jobs, but they’ll definitely get an interview, and hopefully find an entry level role,” Roynon said. “It does create that pathway from the classroom to a career in tech and trying to find those in demand jobs in the province.”

No just tuition-free, the costs for transportation and books will also be covered, Roynon said.

“That should not be borne by the students, family, or the community,” she noted. “Also open access so there’s no tests or application requirements for students to get in. We want to be as inclusive as possible and have the students participate in the program if they’re interested. A lot of times we work with the teachers to really help identify those who could really take advantage of the program.”

They said the Unama’ki P-TECH program will incorporate technical proficiency such as programming, while fostering professional skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and adaptability for “new-collar” jobs.

“We don’t always need people with a PhD or a four-year computer science degree, because the jobs are changing, the technology is changing so quickly,” Roynon noted.

The P-TECH model provides participants with work experience with employers in the ICT sector that addresses industry’s need to have new grads with experience along with well-developed professional workplace habits, IBM Canada said.

“The digital economy of the future is in need of new types of workforce skills and both public and private sector partners must work together to address this skills challenge,” said Claude Guay, President and General Manager, IBM Canada. “The P-TECH model has reinvented the approach to education, training, re-skilling and recruiting and is a great example of how we can come together to prepare our youth for jobs of tomorrow. We are proud to partner with the Unama’ki community and NSCC to build a competitive and diverse workforce for the future.”

For the Indigenous participants having mentors, and connections to employment built into this program addresses the need for real opportunities, IBM Canada said. The company said the program allows participants not just to dream about opportunity but more importantly they are able to realize those dreams.

“We have an internal group called the Indigenous Peoples Networking Group, that’s a group of IBMers across the country that are either allies or Indigenous themselves, and we try to connect those IBMers to students in the Indigenous community,” Roynon explained. “So they have someone to talk to about what it’s like working in tech, the skills they need, just to ask questions and help them along their journey.”

In addition, aspects of Mi’kmaq culture, language and other Indigenous teaching such as the guiding principles of “two-eyed seeing” will be part of this school’s P-TECH model.

“The field of technology is growing exponentially with each passing year,” said Chief Leroy Denny, Eskasoni First Nation and Chair for Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey (MK). “This program is able to provide our students with the type of programming and experience that gives them the advantage to move right into the field after graduation.”

The Indigenous population is Canada’s fastest growing demographic and IBM Canada said there is a need to prepare the Indigenous youth with the digital and technological skills required for the changing workforce.

“The Mi’kmaq leadership in Unama’ki see this initiative about preparing the next generation for new technology and a new business future. This is about a private-public partnership that is outcome based and results-driven,” states Alex Paul, Executive Director for MEBO. “We look forward to providing this unique model for our Unama’ki youth interested in STEM careers and working in partnership with industry to fill the gaps in the local workforce.”

This model will prepare Indigenous youth to fill the skills gap and to find employment in the Cape Breton and Nova Scotia’s growing sectors of technology, healthcare and applied sciences, the company said.

“P-TECH is like a bridge to opportunity. It gives me a chance to show what I can do, and to grow and prosper. I love P-TECH because it gives people who are unfortunate (money wise) to have a chance of being great, and show what they can really do,” said student Presley Bernard who enrolled in the PTECH pilot program.

“(This is) a way for me to get a degree and a decent job at age 19,” added Zachariah Gloade, another student who is enrolled in PTECH program.