“YEP” Youth Employment Program building strong leaders for the wildlife ecosystem.
VICTORIA – Growing up in a small First Nations community in the Yukon, Kayla Williams’ grandmother encouraged her to go to university and pursue a career protecting wildlife and the environment.
That has been the 27-year-old’s goal ever since she left the Kwanlin Dün First Nation to study science at UBC’s Okanagan campus. In September 2020, Williams moved closer to achieving her goal when she started working with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (COS) through the Youth Employment Program (YEP). It’s an experience she feels lucky to have.
“I’ve had a variety of experiences in a short amount of time that I probably would never get otherwise,” said Williams, who is based in Cranbrook. “It’s really interesting to see how everyone works together. I’ve been able to work with a lot of individuals from different departments the COS works with, like habitat biologists for areas that are closed to protect wildlife and the B.C. Wildlife Health Program to collect biological samples for chronic wasting disease. The program does a lot to make sure we can protect the environment in so many different ways.”
As part of Stronger BC: BC’s Economic Recovery Plan, the YEP was launched in late summer and provides 43 jobs with BC Parks and the COS for young people between the ages of 19 to 30. The program focuses on diversity and inclusion, hiring young people from under-represented groups who may face employment barriers.
“COVID-19 has challenged young people in many ways, including employment. A recovery that leaves young people behind is no recovery,” said George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy. “By supporting an inclusive and diverse workforce, we are giving young people like Kayla a look at what it’s like to work with BC Parks and the Conservation Officer Service, and providing the building blocks for meaningful careers.”
With direct mentoring from experienced park rangers and conservation officers, the youth employees assist with a variety of duties ranging from public outreach and education, facility and trail maintenance, to invasive species removal, field work and projects that support conservation and recreation. Some participants are working as office-based interns in Smithers and with the Provincial Services Branch in Victoria, contributing to research, communications, archival work, program development and policy work.
Trained by WildsafeBC, COS YEP participants, including three designated as wildlife safety officers, have helped conduct attractant audits by providing educational materials on wildlife safety to the public.
Prior to working with BC Parks through the YEP, Kjersten McDonald had never considered being a park ranger as a possible career option. Now she is gaining new skills and knowledge through invasive species removal, wildlife monitoring and infrastructure maintenance, and park ranger is a career the 23-year-old from Campbell River would like to pursue.
“The Youth Employment Program has been an amazing opportunity to learn about different species of birds and plants, and improve my outdoor leadership skills,” said McDonald, based in the Rathtrevor office on Vancouver Island. “I love working outside in nature with different park rangers, and I think I would really enjoy doing this type of work in the long term.”
The next steps in B.C.’s recovery plan will build on progress made with new investments to support programs that will help expand CleanBC, to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change, while preparing for its impact and creating new jobs.
Image source B.C YEP Website