Will tomorrow’s Yukon labour force be up to working for the Chinese?

Dear Uma: Some things don’t make sense at the time, but then comes the “AHA” moment… A few weeks ago on CBC, a…

Dear Uma:

Some things don’t make sense at the time, but then comes the “AHA” moment…

A few weeks ago on CBC, a representative from Yukon College was addressing the question about the lack of a trained labour force in Yukon.

One of the solutions is to make the training time shorter and one of the positions he discussed was that of surveyor. This training, once of two years’ duration, is now to take nine months of schooling.

I paid scant attention; many training times have been shortened, almost as many as have been invented. Concerning the latter, it is now mandatory to have a certificate in flagging, or labouring, for instance.

Given the recent Yukon News story on the academic abilities of Yukon students, courses must be shortened and simplified or Yukon will never have a labour force worthy of all the incredible jobs we are told are coming this way as the Chinese come for the natural resources in the territory.

A few days later on CBC, there was a story about rocks falling on houses and into people’s yards. No one was hurt, more through luck than foresight, as it turns out.

The spokesperson for the local community tells us no one has come forward to tell them what happened, why it occurred, or what will be done about the damage done by falling rocks.

The good news, in my opinion, about this particular event is the folks involved have all gotten together and agreed to speak collectively, rather than individually.

The spokesman sounded pleased when he talked about getting to know his neighbours for the first time in all the years he has lived in the area.

The story of the falling rocks also appeared today on CBC: still no word from government, or the contractor doing the blasting.

The spokesperson is sounding frustrated, and baffled. The group he is representing would like someone, anyone, to step up and take some responsibility.

AHA! I thought; could there be some less-than-mystical connection being made here?

If young people from Yukon schools go on to Yukon College, take these lite courses and enter the workforce, should we learn to anticipate things maybe sometimes going awry? Like blasting operations going terribly wrong?

Ought we look ahead to related incidents, such as toxic leaks into rivers and lakes, bridges caving in and roads causing traffic accidents due to poor design?

How about added costs due to equipment no one knows how to use properly, let alone maintain?

The mind boggles at the implications.

Now, I am aware there are some courses that are padded. I took a course, ages ago, in basic first aid and CPR. This course cost a hundred dollars and ate an entire weekend of time, time spent in a stuffy classroom alternately listening to an instructor read what was written on his power point presentation up on the screen in front of us, and practising, ever so briefly, (it was a large class), on a dummy.

Emphasized throughout was the importance of appointing someone to telephone an ambulance immediately.

There seemed to be an assumption there would be a host of bystanders at the scene of any accident requiring us to make use of our training.

Equally important was the necessity of using what looked to be a rubber dam before administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

These devices, handily attached to a key ring, were for sale in the classroom and we were told NEVER to put our mouth against that of a possibly dying person without using one.

In some way, it reminded me of the instructions on a bottle of shower-stall cleaner: “For best results, start with a clean shower stall.”

Upon completion, on our way out the door, we were each given a laminated page showing, in words and illustrations, everything we needed to know to perform basic first aid and CPR.

We were once again urged to buy the key chain. All of us felt cheated, mostly of our time. Why not just sell us the sheet of paper in a transaction taking maybe two minutes? we wondered.

This course was taken many years ago, and in another country.

My fellow students, while ranging in age from 16 to 72, were all literate. Every one of us could read fluently and comprehend what we were reading.

Yes, we were mostly bored with what we were presented with, but we were polite about it.

There was no talking while the instructor was reading off the screen; no one interrupted him during his discourse; there was no pencil-tapping or shifting of chairs and tables, and no one noisily left the room, either singly or in a group.

No one ate or chewed gum, or tossed things around the room, nor did anyone put their feet on the tables, or lie down on them. There was no cursing, or muttering under the breath.

We lined up to take our turn with the dummy without jostling, fighting, or shouting.

After a break, all conversation ceased when the instructor took his place; he didn’t have to yell or cajole us to give him our attention. We weren’t offered candy as an incentive to listen, or to do the exercises expected of us.

No one, in two long days, had to be sent from the room.

I would venture to suggest every one of us would be capable of carrying out the basic first aid and CPR that we’d come there to learn.

If the Watson Lake schools are any example, many Yukon students are just about the opposite of the class I have described.

If the students in school here are learning anything, and I have seen some evidence that some do learn, I am impressed with their powers of concentration, given what is going on around them.

Those who are taking home something of what they are in school to learn have to be committed students, willing to work on their own, because teachers spend a great deal of their class time dealing with behaviour considered reprehensible in most societies.

Obviously the situation is not created by the schools; it is brought there for the staff to deal with, and deal with it they do, endlessly and repetitively, and to my new and inexperienced eyes, mostly ineffectively.

There are probably all sorts of reasons for this that I am not privy to, just as there are all sorts of reasons children behave badly in school, but reasons are one thing and excuses are another.

A public school classroom could be a place to start, a place where behaviour, at least, could be expected to meet a common standard.

There is a kind of safety, and freedom, created when people come together with the understanding that in this place we all agree to act a certain way — it’s called civilization.

That freedom and safety does not exist in these schools, and these children are to be the coming labour force.

There you are, Uma, living in your small town (OK, just outside of it) in California and you aren’t matching my stories with some of your own.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed, or remembered your expressions of disbelief when you respond to my accounts of life in this town.

How can they be so different?

Geography alone cannot explain this, at least to my satisfaction.

When I visit your town, I don’t see or feel what I see and feel in this one.

It is not solely because I am a visitor; as you have on many occasions pointed out, I am the glass-is-half-full person in our relationship, so the one-sidedness of our separate experiences is not because I am a naysayer by nature, or possess a gloomy disposition.

I write to a friend, another small-town dweller, in BC, and she writes to me of her community working together to create a good place for everyone to live.

I haven’t yet visited Sharon in her town, she’s been there just two years, but I am going to, and somehow I think her experience will be closer to yours than mine.

Sometimes, listening to stories of the old days in Watson Lake, I think I have arrived in time to witness a sort of death.

It’s hard to find voices lifted in song and celebration —not so hard to find voices droning dirges and despair.

Going with some song and celebration, I am now able to fit into most of my summer clothes.

No thanks to the hundreds of dollars spent of the potions and devices. By the time they’d arrived, I had been assured by Pete, and local pals, that I was not so gargantuan as I’d first thought.

In fact, it seems a weight gain over a Yukon winter is a common experience and not worthy of a fret, let alone a full-blown meltdown such as I the one I had.

In hindsight, I think mine was compounded by the black eyes, injured knee, and what Pete, more or less affectionately, refers to as my propensity for hyperbole.



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.

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