"That's one thing I tell the clients once they start in the classroom. Employers really need employees who are licensed drivers," says Philip Bear, a driver training instructor with Dumont Technical Institute (DTI) in La Ronge.
Driver training has been incorporated into DTI's Adult Basic Education (ABE) as part of multi-year pilot partnership with Gabriel Dumont Institute (GDI) Training and Employment. The purpose is to increase the employability of students and to remove the barriers not having a licence creates in northern and remote communities.
"I thought it was a good correlation with the ABE program because we find that's a barrier for people when they are seeking employment," says Chelsie Rodriguez, Employment Services Manager with GDI Training and Employment.
Having a driver's licence can also be a matter of basic personal safety. Bear says it's a particularly valuable program in a place like La Ronge.
"Well, it's a big difference, especially around here up north; a lot of people walk in wintertime," says Bear. "But once they get their licence, they drive around in their vehicle."
Driver training and testing can be expensive. Classroom and in-car training typically costs more than $750. And that's before students take any tests.
For some, it's a significant barrier.
Christopher Sheffield is 43 years old. He says he should have gotten his licence years ago but never did. Eventually, he says, it became too expensive.
Then he heard about the DTI program, which is delivered at no cost to Métis students.
"When they told me they had the program, that they would pay for it and everything, I was like 'yes, let's get this done,'" says Sheffield.
Sheffield says he narrowly missed on his first road test, but he's confident he'll get it next time. DTI continues to support him, even providing access to a car for his road test.
"They are wonderful. They are there to help you as much as they can."
Program staff work with low-income non-Métis students to find other sources of funding, so they too can get licensed.
The program has been offered in La Ronge, Saskatoon, Meadow Lake and Fort Qu'Appelle. Rodriguez says she receives calls from all over Saskatchewan from people asking if the program might be offered in their community.
Brian Frykland taught a group of 13 students last spring in Fort Qu'Appelle.
"It's a great program," says Frykland. "I enjoyed it; it's great and hopefully it keeps going."
Frykland says what he enjoys most is the interaction with the students. Each is unique. He's worked with people of all ages, something he finds satisfying.
Frykland adds getting a driver's licence is one of the signposts on a life's journey, along with things like graduation, getting married and having a family.
"It's an accomplishment. It's one of the major goals of a person's life," says Frykland.
"It's very satisfying and rewarding to see them. Like how happy they are with themselves once they accomplish that," adds Rodriguez.
A total of 27 Indigenous men and women have gone through the Driver Training Program since it started in 2017. DTI is looking to expand the program due to high demand. It is recruiting an instructor to lead more training in the north, including Buffalo Narrows, La Loche, and Pinehouse Lake.
DTI is the Adult Basic Education and skills training branch of Gabriel Dumont Institute, a Métis-owned educational and cultural Institute with program delivery centres across Saskatchewan. For more information, visit www.gdins.org.