Businesses offer employment to Huu-ay-ahts

When Huu-ay-aht First Nations signed the Maa-nulth Treaty in 2011, one of the main reasons was to create opportunities for its people.

Five years later, that is exactly what it has done.

Since becoming self-governing, Huu-ay-aht has had many opportunities to create wealth and opportunities for the Nation, such as forestry, fishery, and other businesses. Gradually more citizens have been receiving training and finding employment, but nothing has been as successful in job creation as the purchase of 11 properties in Bamfield earlier this year. This move has pushed Huu-ay-aht into the hospitality industry with two feet.

The property purchase includes four turn-key operations – The Motel, The Pub, the Kingfisher, and Ostroms Guest House. It also offered the opportunity to combine two gas bars into one and open the float house as a tourist information centre and convenience store. The businesses, plus The Market and Café means that Huu-ay-aht has a strong presence in Bamfield, but it also opens many doors for Huu-ay-ahts looking for work in their traditional territory.

“With many of these jobs there’s not a lot of barriers to enter the workforce,” explains Bobby Toor, Hospitality Manager for the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses. “Most jobs require little to no experience to do them, so it’s a great opportunity.”

Toor has hired approximately 12 Huu-ay-ahts to fill the vacant positions at The Motel, The Pub, Ostroms and the Kingfisher available since the purchase. He says that is not 100 per cent Huu-ay-aht, which is the ultimate goal, but it is getting pretty close.

Toor says it is important to hire and train Huu-ay-aht citizens for more reasons than that their Nation owns the businesses. He explains that they have personal reasons for wanting the businesses to succeed, and that will hopefully create an extra drive to do the job well.

“It also give us a competitive advantage,” he adds. “It offers us something other businesses can’t – the Huu-ay-aht experience.”

He says people want to hear about the history of the area and the traditions and stories of the First Nations who have called it home for centuries. It only makes sense to hire Huu-ay-ahts so that the businesses that are owned by the Nation offer that unique experience. Although the businesses will train all of their staff to be Huu-ay-aht ambassadors, it makes the experience more genuine if the people telling the stories have a connection to the land and the culture.

Pachena Campground and Gas Bar is a huge success story when it comes to offering employment to Huu-ay-aht citizens. This season has been busy with lots of exciting things going on around the campsite. Not the least of these is that this year job opportunities at the campsite brought eight Huu-ay-ahts home to their traditional territory, and all 11 of the staff are Huu-ay-aht citizens.

Having Huu-ay-ahts working at the campsite adds to the experience for the visitors every summer, as they are able to talk about the cultural significance of the land and add details others might not know.

One challenge is finding the right person for the right job, as working physical labour on a campsite is not for everyone.

Esther Jackway manages The Floathouse, The Market and Café. Although Huu-ay-aht has owned these businesses for a number of years, the demand for staff continues to grow.

Esther believes these businesses can offer year-round employment for Huu-ay-aht citizens. Unfortunately, she has not been as successful as Toor in finding Huu-ay-ahts to work for her at the different businesses. She is hoping that will change as citizens start hearing more jobs are available. Currently, Jackway has only two Huu-ay-aht employees out of nine. She says with more positions available that should improve.

“We are close to fully staffed, but with the extended hours, we will be needing more people,” she says. “I’m hoping that it is just bad timing. People are used to these being seasonal jobs, so we’re hoping citizens start looking for summer work soon.”

She explains the biggest obstacle to hiring Huu-ay-ahts continues to be transportation.

“Skills are not the issue here, we can train people,” she adds. “Unfortunately getting here can be hard. Often transportation is an issue, as citizens have to come from the Village (Anacla) to work in Bamfield.”

She says people often believe The Market is a hard place to get employment if you are Huu-ay-aht, but that is not the case, it’s more about availability.

“Our doors are open to anyone,” she says. “But if no one from the Village applies, we have to draw from elsewhere.”

Huu-ay-aht First Nations remains committed to hiring and training its people. The Government offers many education and training opportunities that will give citizens the skills they need to fill positions when they become available.

Gary Wilson says when he  accepted the role of CEO for HFN Management LP and Huu-ay-ath Group of Businesses in December 2015, he was impressed with the companies track record for recruiting and training Huu-ay-aht citizens throughout the organization. He adds that it has been, and continues to be, HGB’s objective to build on this success. The organization will work with the Nation and supporting organizations, like NETP, to create long-term, sustainable opportunities for Huu-ay-aht citizens.

“Having said this, there are challenges that prevent us from achieving this objective in the short-term, like transportation or lack of accommodation, especially those citizens with families who move home, with which we have no immediate solutions,” he says. “Despite the challenges with respect to recruitment of citizens, we are finding creative ways to overcome the barriers to success, but such bandage like resolutions are temporary. A longer-term solution will require a collective effort of Huu-ay-aht, HGB, and others.

Despite these challenges, the board and executive management are extremely pleased with the efforts and subsequent results of the management team in Anacla/Bamfield in terms of preparing our operations for the season and the recruitment of citizens.

“Our next objective is to take the learnings from the experiences this year, build on the successes, and incorporate into our objectives to extend the seasons, creating long-term, eventually year-round employment and creating careers for citizens, he explains.

Annie Merritt oversees training and employment for Huu-ay-aht First Nations. She says the Nation is there to help in any way possible. Her goal is to equip citizens with the skills they need to get jobs and stay employed.

“We are trying to be proactive,” she explains. “We are developing tools that people can use to make sure they are ready to work, that might be a proper resume, a checklist of things to know heading into an interview, or information on who is hiring and how to get noticed.”

She is working closely with Huu-ay-aht’s Human Resource Manager Marleen Nookemus on employment equity and diversity measures that would increase the chances of citizens getting a job with the Nation or HGB. The idea is they will offer more feedback when people apply for jobs within Huu-ay-aht and its businesses. For instance, when someone applies for a job, they will receive an automatic reply that tells them their resume has been received. If that person is a citizen, they will also receive a list of services that are available through the Nation should they need assistance. If they do not get the job, citizens will be offered the opportunity to receive feedback on why they were not chosen. This is an opportunity for them to fill in the gaps and make improvements for when the next job with the Nation becomes available. It would also be another opportunity to receive assistance from the Nation.

For now, the Nation is focused on the jobs that are currently advertised and making sure citizens are ready to apply and fill the positions. Annie says that her current focus is getting the Nation’s employment and training services on citizens’ radar. Since these are new services, many people still don’t think to get in touch for employment support. She says it is also important to adjust the plan of action to the person instead of trying to develop a “one-size-fits-all” method. This is why the Nation is taking a varied approach in employment programming, ranging from L training, to the Trades Discovery Program, and a Cultural Tourism training program coming up in the fall.

“It’s difficult trying to strike a balance between offering a focused training approach and meeting people where they are,” she says. “It’s important to take into consideration people’s individual interests, natural abilities and attributes, as well as practical things like schedules.”

The Nation is also working to develop relationships with businesses and organizations who might offer employment opportunities in the future, as well as educators in the area. Annie mentions NETP, Vast, and Alberni District Secondary School as examples.

The good news is that Huu-ay-aht is leading the pack when it comes to employment and training.  It is very uncommon for Nations to have a dedicated employment and training staff member, and this means that we can get creative with our employment programming and support.

“But we can’t go it alone,” Annie explains, adding that Huu-ay-aht is exploring many opportunities to take advantage of opportunities by partnering with other Nations, organizations, and businesses.

Huu-ay-aht also has a number of summer postings for students. Please go to www.huuayaht.org for more information.

If you would like more help preparing for employment or training, contact Annie at 250-723-0100 or email her at annie.m@huuayaht.org. Employment opportunities with Huu-ay-aht are posted regularly at www.huuayaht.org.

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