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Tailored to Fit - Customized business training programs help Aboriginal communities succeed


Building capacity is key for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities interested in developing economic opportunities for long-term success. While there are many business and management training options in Canada, Aboriginal communities have specific challenges and issues that are not always addressed. Customized training solutions can be an effective solution.

“As a firm, we’ve worked with Aboriginal communities for over 20 years,” says Suzanne Ebelher, Practice Leader of Training Solutions at MNP. “As a result, we know that they not only require information, but most importantly, actual tools that fit their unique situations.”

In 2006, MNP began to design and implement business and management training programs specific to Aboriginal communities. The programs, which today cover such topics as new venture due diligence, compensation and performance management, entrepreneurship, financial fluency, governance, project management, leadership and tangible capital asset reporting, are practical, relevant and customized.

“Our approach is not to just go out and deliver information,” explains Tony Colabella, Alberta Training Lead, Advisory Services at MNP. “The programs are not just theoretical concepts, but practical information and tools that help people start and grow businesses.”

As an example, Tony includes the business plan template in the Entrepreneur Training program. Participants interested in starting a new business are given a comprehensive template as well as assistance in filling it out to help them get their operations off the ground and possibly secure financing.

Similarly, Project Management Training includes a project planning kit that can be used afterward.

Because every community has different goals and requirements, MNP’s Aboriginal Service and Training Practice people work with the community prior to implementing a program. “We complete a needs assessment up front to find out who the audience is and what their specific needs are,” says Suzanne. “There may be particular information required, or the program may need to be delivered in a unique way to accommodate location challenges or learning styles.”

Recently, MNP customized its Governance Training program for a brand new First Nation. Delivered to the Chief and Council, the program covers such diverse topics as how to run meetings effectively and how to identify and implement an appropriate accounting system.

Typically, the programs are delivered in the community. This eliminates the need for participants to travel or even move for a period of time and allows people with full-time jobs to participate. But when this delivery method didn’t work for the Alexander First Nation, MNP and the community came up with a unique solution.

“We started taking Management Training on the reserve and had a variety of participants, some management staff as well as business entrepreneurs, enrolled,” says Lori Anne Paul, Manager of Employment and Labour Services for Alexander First Nation. “As the schedule proceeded, participants were dwindling due to the challenge of making time each week to attend sessions.”

“The overall programming was too long for us because we were working at the same time,” says Lori Anne. “Delivering the training on the reserve was a good thing but we had to change it up because we wanted people to complete all of the training.”

Working with MNP, the participants came up with an option that would allow them to complete the training: going away for an intensive week-long session in which the remainder of the program was delivered.

Lori Anne says she and the other participants continue to see the benefits of the program. “Everybody is currently using what they learned,” she states. “How to read a financial statement, how to read the audit. One guy was an entrepreneur and he now has a functional business plan. We’re able to use the training every day in our jobs.”

That, says Tony, is the goal of every training program offered by MNP. “If you’re going to take a three-day Tangible Capital Asset Training program to understand the changes in financial reporting and to account for tangible capital assets, you want information that you can use,” he says.

MNP’s Tangible Capital Asset Training program uses the community or organization’s own financial information as the basis for the presentation and course material. As a result, participants leave with a detailed work plan tailored to them so they can implement the new reporting standards.

Although all programs are customizable, some things stay the same, such as MNP’s commitment to prevent participants from being bored. “We don’t just stand up there and lecture,” laughs Suzanne. “Our programs include a variety of instruction methods, such as success stories, exercises, brainstorming sessions, case studies and conversation. We want people to get the hands-on experience that truly leads to success.”

The number of training programs delivered by the firm is constantly growing and MNP’s Training Practice group is always willing to create new offerings to meet new needs. Bringing training into your community is an effective way of meeting your goals and building capacity for a better future.

For more than 20 years, Meyers Norris Penny has proudly served Aboriginal communities throughout Canada. As industry leaders in the Entrepreneurship and Management Training field, they deliver practical, relevant and customized training programs that give individuals and teams the skills they need to make informed business decisions. To find out what MNP can do for you, contact Suzanne Ebelher at 403.537.7661 or Tony Colabella at 403.537.7665.