NORTHAMPTON, MA / ACCESSWIRE / July 31, 2023 / Eight women crowd around their classmate, a pilot in training, eyes fixed to the screen. Miles away, the drone soars across their remote community in the northeast corner of British Columbia, creating a thermal map of the region.
A herd of wild horses comes into view, and the women watch, delighted, as the animals graze on screen.
Deeper into the territory, a large patch of heat emerges in the thermal imaging. The pilot flips the drone's view to the camera and reveals an enormous moose. The group erupts in excitement, awed at the technology and its potential.
The women, all Indigenous members of the Blueberry River First Nation, are participants in the Construction Foundation of BC's Sky Keepers program. They are becoming drone pilots, earning an advanced drone certification through Transport Canada.
Some women plan to use their drone pilot's license to work in the oil and gas industry; others to monitor the environment-water levels, animal activity, soil erosion. Others still wonder if drone technology could help keep Indigenous women safe, to improve response times and prevent more Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Keri Taylor, Sky Keeper's operations manager, is proud to hear the women contemplate applications of drone technology.
"Drones are an up-and-coming market," she explains. "It really excites a lot of the women. It leads to job opportunities where you can work from home on your own time."
CFBC launched Sky Keepers in 2023, offering the program to 28 Indigenous women across three B.C.-based cohorts in Blueberry River, Kamloops and Surrey. In addition to drone certification, participants receive training in word processing and technology, as well as other certifications like First Aid and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System).
Classroom time also includes Indigenous programming, such as Elder talks.
Taylor says the CFBC's programs like Sky Keepers help fill niche markets, to make opportunities available to people who are interested in the construction industry but face barriers to accessing education.
Sky Keepers is the first of CFBC's offerings focused specifically on supporting Indigenous women participants who are either underemployed, unemployed or precariously employed.
The program is funded entirely by grants and donations from the community. Enbridge contributed a $20,000 Fueling Futures grant to support Indigenous women, an underrepresented population, as they develop their potential in the construction industry and gain valuable experience to contribute to their communities.
"One of the participants shared with me that she was happy to be involved in the program, because it helped her create a regular routine in her day," Taylor says. "She told me: ‘I feel a sense of purpose.' "
The first Sky Keepers cohort graduated in March 2023, and already alumni are working in the field.
For those who need additional support finding work, participants are invited to transition into CFBC's All Roads program, focused on helping Indigenous learners find their way to meaningful careers.
"For those who transition to our All Roads program, we keep walking with them on their employment journey," says Taylor, "and make sure they still have the supports in place they need on their pathway to successful and meaningful employment."