PPA program blends Indigenous culture with in-demand job skills

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Learn more about the Professional Project Administrator program.


Kelly Loffler was ready for a change.

An esthetician since she graduated from high school, she had operated her own business for almost 20 years in Campbell River, BC, doing nails and eyelash extensions. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and salons like hers were forced to temporarily close.

Wondering what to do — and having harboured an interest in administrative work — she learned about the Professional Project Administrator (PPA) program offered by Royal Roads University Professional and Continuing Studies in partnership with Métis Nation BC.

Now, three years after she enrolled in the program in fall 2020, Loffler works as an online learning coordinator with RRU Professional and Continuing studies, having also previously been a research assistant in the PPA program research project, Project Connect.

“It was daunting to think of learning a whole new skillset because I was so capable at what I did for so long,” she says of her move from esthetics to academia. “It was a leap of faith. Like, ‘I know I’m capable and I’ll work hard,’ but now you’re in a cohort with 14 strangers and you’re expected to pull your weight and be their teammate. So, it was daunting, but it was exciting because it was a change I had been ready for.”

Asked what she gained from her PPA education, Loffler says: “Confidence is the number one thing. It helped me to gain the confidence to know that I could go into a role and if I didn’t already know the duties, I was capable of learning, despite not having been in school since I was 18.”

The Winnipeg resident says the skills she learned — from using business software to speaking to groups online to developing a collective approach to leadership — were important but just as critical to the program’s impact for her was being part of a learning community made up of Métis people like her. Their culture was included in every aspect of the program, whether they were beading, weaving or cooking together (online), or learning history from a Métis elder.

Skills broadly applicable in labour market

Tim Brigham, the PPA program lead, says the connection to culture was a crucial piece of the plan as RRU, funded by the Future Skills Centre’s Project Connect, which focused on technology-enabled learning for Indigenous students, offered the five-month program and its suite of credit and non-credit courses to Métis and, in later cohorts, other Indigenous students in BC and Alberta.

The courses focused on skills in project management, collective leadership, data management and reporting, Microsoft Office, proposal writing, digital literacy and communications. Students were provided with wrap-around supports in career counselling, coaching, and mental health and well-being.

Essential to the program was filling a need in the labour market while providing individuals the skills they would require to succeed in the workforce. Graduates have gone on to a variety of jobs, from public programming for an observatory to work in a social services agency to self-employment as project management consultants.

“The skills we provide through the program are broadly applicable. That’s what we set out to do and that’s what we achieved,” Brigham says.

He echoes Loffler’s comments on the confidence gained by students and says in part, they built that quality by working hard and expanding their capabilities beyond what they, as students, thought possible. 

“We push people pretty hard and I think people felt pretty stretched by it,” he says. “I think people realizing that they could stick with it and get through it, coming out the other end… they felt like they had achieved something.”

"I’ve always wanted to help people"

Bernadette Chaboyer says she and many of her classmates certainly felt stretched by their coursework. The Terrace, BC resident remembers one occasion when two major projects were due at the same time, which required students to learn to manage their time effectively while juggling competing but equally important demands.

A student in the first PPA cohort, Chaboyer, who previously worked in retail management and as a property manager, now works as home share manager for Thompson Community Services, also sitting on the organization’s hiring and occupational health and safety committees. As well, she’s the volunteer president of the North West BC Métis Association.

“Now that I’m a few years deep into my career and I’ve started working with my community, I can see the different aspects of [the PPA program] — not just project management, but it’s helping me be a good leader within my community and being a collective leader within our organization.”

And she notes that her PPA participation — 30 years after she’d last been in school — helped her pursue a long-held passion.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” she says. “Throughout the years, we’ve always as a family helped one another and helped people, so I thought that was the direction I’d want to be going.”

Partnerships, relationality critical to PPA program

Zoe MacLeod, RRU’s associate vice president, Professional and Continuing Studies, attributes the success of the PPA program to the custom-designed curriculum — adapting to the needs of each community — coupled with its flexibility and focus on relationality. 

“Building meaningful relationships with partner communities and Elders has been crucial,” she says, adding, “The focus on the whole person, community and intergenerational impact has set the program apart.”

She says the program enhanced participants’ employability skills and made them more competitive in the job market, with some students securing jobs for which they wouldn't have applied previously.

MacLeod also notes that while the future of the PPA program is dependent on securing funding, “We would love to see the program continue and we’re hopeful that will be able to find funding and partnership opportunities to continue.

“We receive continued requests from communities to offer it or to send students to it. Relationality, capacity and blended worldviews have been pivotal in shaping the program and will guide its future iterations.”


Learn more about the Professional Project Administrator program.