FortisBC works alongside Indigenous businesses to add value to communities

The company hopes projects will supply both immediate and long-term benefits for surrounding communities

(L to R) Shane Gravelle, Intern Field Safety Officer, ProActive Safety, attends an Inland Gas Upgrades project site with Renn Davidson, Steel River Solutions, and Jamie Peterson, FortisBC, to ensure workers are following safety rules and regulations.

When FortisBC began planning its Inland Gas Upgrade (IGU) project, a project to upgrade sections of its gas system, they made it a key priority to work closely with local and Indigenous businesses. The utility company wanted to ensure the project brought both immediate and longer-term benefits for the surrounding communities. 

They found a like-minded partner in ProActive Safety & First Aid, a Ktunaxa citizen-owned business, contracted to provide professional safety services at work sites near communities in the East Kootenays region of B.C. 

Discussions between the IGU project team and Mike Nicholas and Nicky Hogan, ProActive’s business owners, led to a perfect win-win opportunity, hitting the mark for the business, the wider community, and FortisBC. The process of listening and collaborating led to the creation of a safety officer internship for a member of the Ktunaxa Nation: FortisBC would fund a one-year internship, and ProActive would oversee the intern’s training. 

Hogan and Nicholas first launched ProActive Safety & First Aid three years ago to help meet the high demand for safety representatives in areas far from hospitals and other medical services. Initially, they could only hire staff with extensive experience, but as their business grew, their company was well-positioned to mentor people just starting out in their safety careers. 

“Our original hires already had their certification and lots of experience,” Hogan explains. “Because they saw the benefit of sharing their experience to help develop those skills in others, we were able to give people with less experience a chance.” 

It’s also a priority for ProActive to hire locally, including from within the Ktunaxa Nation. 

“I’m a member of the Ktunaxa Nation,” says Nicholas. “Providing local jobs and creating careers for Ktunaxa members who would otherwise have to go up north to find work means everything to us. It’s something we never thought we’d have the opportunity to do.”

FortisBC valued the opportunity to increase the availability of safety professionals, a role that is critical to all of the company's work, including large construction projects. And, in this case, the work experience would take place right on the IGU project, giving the intern hands-on experience within FortisBC’s own operations.

“This idea had a couple of elements that are so important to FortisBC,” says Erinn Mah, Indigenous talent specialist at FortisBC. “We want to leverage opportunities to engage and develop key talent, and, of course, safety is always a priority for us. 

“Forming this kind of partnership with an Indigenous business could be a pilot project for developing Indigenous talent in the future,” adds Mah.

Ktunaxa member Shane Gravelle was hired for the new role of Intern Field Safety Officer, under the mentorship of Karen Barton, one of ProActive’s experienced safety officers. He’s now gaining valuable on-the-job work experience and taking the courses necessary to obtain his National Construction Safety Officer (NCSO®) certification.

“I’ve wanted to find a career position for a long time. Safety is something I can see myself making a career out of,” says Gravelle. “What excited me the most was the opportunity to grow and learn new things.” 

Although he has years of experience on construction sites, the safety officer role, which includes writing daily and weekly reports, is new to him. That’s where the mentorship comes in. 

“It’s great working alongside Karen because she has so much experience with safety protocols and pipelines. She’s helped get me up to speed with everything I need to know.”  

According to Nicholas, mentorship is one of the unique elements of this internship that makes it so valuable. 

“Shane gets to pick Karen’s brain about what safety issues to look for out in the field and why he should look for them,” Nicholas explains. “He also gets to see the paperwork side of things; he’s learning it all.” 

For FortisBC, creating positions like this also puts its Statement of Indigenous Principles into action. Developed over 20 years ago with input, guidance and direction from several Indigenous leaders across B.C., it sets the standard for how those within the company educate themselves about Indigenous culture and priorities, create opportunities for Indigenous contractors and employees, and engage with Indigenous Peoples in its business operations. 

Putting this commitment into practice for the IGU project alone has resulted in more than a quarter of the local contracts going to Indigenous-affiliated companies like ProActive. And it’s paying off. These companies earned 66% of the estimated $625,000 spent locally on this project between January 1 and May 31, 2021. It’s also helped ensure FortisBC has access to the skilled professionals needed to upgrade and safely maintain its extensive system throughout the province. 

Learn more about FortisBC’s business development partnerships.