(Blueberry River, BC) – The Construction Foundation of BC’s (CFBC) Sky Keepers program celebrated a major milestone in March with the graduation of its first cohort. A total of nine participants from Blueberry River First Nations completed the women-specific program, with an additional nineteen participants registered for upcoming programming this Spring.

With an emphasis placed on acquiring a drone operating certificate at the program’s completion, Sky Keepers participants also received safety certifications (WHMIS, Food Safe, and more) and computer training, financial literacy, cultural connection workshops, essential skills workshops and more over the span of 10 weeks. A number of aspects and activities of the Sky Keepers program were co-created with its participants. 

“It’s been an amazing group to work with,” said Sky Keepers Manager of Operations, Keri Taylor. “There was a sense of engagement, a sense of family, a really tight community. We’ve had some of these women using the Zoom application to participate in class despite having prior family and community commitments. They’ve worked extremely hard to stay involved.” 

Drone training for Sky Keepers was delivered by Aboriginal Training Services (ATS), a private, Indigenous-owned company developing training programs targeted specifically for the use of remote piloted aerial systems (RPAS, drones) in areas of consultation, surveying and emergency management. 

“Working with this Sky Keepers cohort was a fantastic experience,” said ATS founder and owner, Darcy Hunt. “We were out for eight days and the attendance of the participants was great to see. The women who completed the program were issued Advanced Drone Certificates. Now, there are industry partners that are interested in taking them on for future employment.”Participants flew the DJI M30T drone, a model popular in the Search & Rescue industry that includes features such as Ground Penetrating Radar and 200x zoom capabilities. Despite adverse weather conditions during training sessions, ATS and the Sky Keepers cohort were able to fly four drones outdoors. 

“I think that a lot of the class participants had the passion to do it,” added Hunt. “They took well to understanding the information that was passed on to them and building their situational awareness when flying the drones. They were aware of hazards and knowing what to do if something occurred. I was comfortable with them flying the equipment, so that tells you how I felt about their abilities.”Taylor reiterated the commitment of the cohort overall and the women who went out of their way to pick up fellow participants facing transportation issues, ensuring everyone was able to participate in person. Another example of the supportive environment on display was directed at Sky Keeper’s youngest participant, an 18-year-old who prepared hot lunches for the group on several occasions. 

“One of the women came up to me and said, ‘This program has given me a purpose. It has forced me to set a schedule,’” added Taylor. “For others, there is some panic and stress as the program winds down, but we’re able to remind them that it’s just the end of the Sky Keepers program and that they move into our All Roads program at the end of this. There’s a team waiting to welcome and walk beside them with more training, schooling or finding their dream career.” 

Sky Keepers thanks ATCO Frontec, Enbridge Pipelines, TC Energy, Pembina Pipelines, Petronas and Canfor Forestry for their support of the program.  

For more information on the work being done by the Construction Foundation of BC and to donate, please visit www.constructionfoundation.ca.