For the past eight years, Hugh Prichard and Christine Hollmann, partners in Terracentric Coastal Adventures, have forged relationships with Tla’Amin (Sliammon) youth that have led to success on every level. Not only do the pair’s efforts help fill their company’s human resources needs, they also improve the product they are able to offer their customers and simultaneously enrich the larger community with jobs and cultural pride.
Terracentric provides year-round wilderness recreation and education experiences from their base in the Sunshine Coast community of Lund. Located on a former First Nations village site, Lund and its surrounding area are experiencing significant growth in the tourism sector. Yet the area’s remoteness can make attracting and retaining employees a challenge. And in the case of Terracentric, the very nature of their business makes staffing decisions doubly complex. Sharing the stories and history of the area makes the job a better fit for locals than for newcomers.
“Coast Salish people have been here for thousands of years,” says Prichard. “They’re the ones best suited to showcasing it.” Under the name “Coast Salish Journeys”, the team delivers Indigenous cultural tours and eco-tourism programs. By employing Indigenous people, companies such as Terracentric can provide a “stronger, more ethical product,” says Prichard. “A true marker of a genuine eco-tourism business is one that walks the talk by employing Indigenous people in telling their own stories of the area.”
With this in mind, Terracentric has developed programs that help the company tap into the often-overlooked Indigenous labour force. Currently, the company employs Tla’Amin (Sliammon) community members to assist in delivering special events and youth programs. To recruit these workers, Terracentric offers youth training opportunities that serve as feeder programs for its human resources department. These adventure-based learning programs promote skill development, self-esteem, and creativity – all highly desirable attributes in potential future employees.
Terracentric’s Brooks Outdoor Adventure Tourism Training Program (BOATT, offered in partnership with School District #47 Powell River), for example, provides experiential education that gives high school students life lessons and a jump-start on career development. A full-semester credit program, BOATT combines regular curriculum with specially designed courses in adventure tourism and 120 hours of work experience in the industry. Terracentric also runs Therapeutic Programs, like the Tla’Amin Community Health Services Youth Program, designed to promote healthy lifestyles, build personal and interpersonal skills, develop outdoor skills, and encourage cultural rediscovery amongst native youth. Established in 2002, these programs are another way the company grooms local young people for successful careers in adventure tourism. And this summer, Prichard and the Coast Salish Journeys team hope to launch yet another feeder program. The Coastal Watchman Program will provide training to First Nations youth to allow them to learn more about the traditional territories and give them the technical skills necessary to find employment in tourism and other sectors.
Of course, Terracentric’s efforts haven’t come easy – or cheap. Public sector funding – from Vancouver Coastal Health, Tla’Amin Community Health Services and Health Canada – has been a crucial element in developing the programs. In addition, the results are far from immediate. “It takes sweat equity and tenacity,” Prichard says, but the outcome makes it worthwhile. “Now, five years later, we have one or two very strong Indigenous young people who want to stay in this community and work in the tourism industry.”
Erik Blaney, from the Tla’Amin Nation, is one of Terracentric’s biggest former HR success stories. Blaney began as a junior leader in one of the company’s learning programs in 2003 and is now being groomed to become a third partner in the business. Prichard emphasizes that training and retaining workers from the Indigenous community requires an understanding of the community’s values. Training is most effective when it is experiential, with job shadowing and mentoring playing a central role. Prichard’s recruits tend to do best by “observing, then doing, then reflecting.” And because family plays such a central role in Indigenous culture, family obligations need to be respected when scheduling Indigenous workers. “Indigenous people need the opportunity to be employed within the industry locally,” says Prichard, “and our programs are helping make those opportunities happen.” In the end, it seems, everyone wins: local youth get good jobs, Terracentric ends up with a top-quality staff, and its customers get the best outdoor experience possible.