Many of us remember our first big break— a door opened, and we walked through to find an amazing opportunity.

This was Ben Graham’s experience. Ben is a member of McMurray Métis Local 1935 and a sixth-generation Métis man from Fort McMurray. He has been working as an electrical assistant for the last year all because of a program that helps Métis youth between the ages of 15 and 30 get their big break in the trades.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do growing up. It was something I always struggled with,” says Ben. “The NorCan mentorship program was key to giving me a path to a long-term career and finding something I enjoy doing.”

When Ben was 19, he applied and was accepted into the Pathway to Métis Youth Apprenticeship Program offered through NorCan Electric Inc. (NorCan).

NorCan offers electrical, welding, project management and instrumentation work to the oil and gas industry in Fort McMurray, including Suncor’s Syncrude operations. The company's apprenticeship program, which launched in 2019 when NorCan established a partnership with Infinity Métis Corp, has seen incredible success.

“Most people don’t realize how hard it can be to get your start in the trades, particularly in the energy industry,” says Steve Jardine, Vice-President of NorCan Infinity. “For us, giving someone a start in the industry is an important step.”

Like Ben, those accepted into the program start in entry-level positions before transitioning into a “runner position” with NorCan. 

As a runner, employees begin by “running” supplies to and from sites, moving equipment around the yard and supporting journeymen when they go to job sites. The runner role allows participants to become familiar with operations before advancing further in their careers. Throughout the process, candidates are placed with a mentor for regular check-ins, ensuring their comfort and success at the site. 

Ben Graham (in white) and Robert MacCracken (in red), two individuals who have gone through the NorCan Infinity Pathway to Metis Youth Apprenticeship Program
Ben Graham (in white) and Robert MacCracken (in red), two individuals who have gone through the NorCan Infinity Pathway to Metis Youth Apprenticeship Program.

 “The mentorship program has given me an opportunity to honour my roots in Fort McMurray, and remain here with a fulfilling career,” adds Ben.

Once participants complete their runner role, they become a leading candidate for apprenticeship roles at Suncor’s Syncrude sites and NorCan Electric. 

“We have always been a big supporter of apprenticeship programs,” explains Shandra Linder, Senior Advisor of Labour Relations at Suncor. “This program provides great value and diversity to our sites.”

Some of the program’s first participants are now in full-time roles at NorCan, Syncrude and other sites in the region. The hope is for the partnership to continue to grow with more industry partners going forward.

“When you talk about diversity and inclusion in the oil and gas industry, this program is a huge step,” says Steve. “We want to learn about the person, about their culture and help them develop their skills to provide them with a full-time career opportunity for the rest of their lives.”

Indigenous perspectives are becoming increasingly sought-after in the energy industry, and the Pathway to Métis Youth Apprentice Program helps ensure Indigenous Peoples are included in the sector. Suncor also has an Indigenous Student Program which provides Indigenous students with meaningful work experience across our operations in Canada. For more information on Suncor's Indigenous Student Program, click the link here.