Tribal Enterprise Diversification and Job Creation Series – Kalispel Metal Product

Kalispel Metal Product, Kalispel Tribe of Indians

Diversification, labor challenges, community job creation, education and internships … these are THE conversations of 2021 and beyond. In this series, we’ll be talking to different organizations about their solutions for sustainable futures.

In this article, we’re focusing on careers in skilled trades, such as carpentry, welding, electricity, plumbing, etc., and how this can be a path for those who wish to pursue vocational training over attending university.

The Timing and Resources Are Right

According to Rob Benner, secretary-treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Northern Nevada, “Timing couldn’t be better for high school students training for their future and men and women looking for a career. The construction industry was one of the least impacted by the pandemic as we were deemed ‘essential.’ And now with the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, we are looking at a potential of 15 million jobs being created nationwide.”

Benner added, “Trades can provide a career blueprint. These are good-paying, transformational jobs that can lift entire families into the middle class while building and repairing the infrastructure of our country. The narrative has been that high schools were eliminating vocational elective classes, but that’s changing. Specifically in Northern Nevada, we are creating partnerships with high schools to accelerate learning.”

Kalispel Metal Products

The Kalispel Tribe of Indians has several diversified businesses in their enterprise, one of them, Kalispel Metal Products which provides training and careers in welding/fabrication and construction. We spoke with Shantel Whitford, Marketing Manager, Kalispel Tribe of Indians:

What was the “why” behind this business venture? What do you wish to accomplish?

Originally, Kalispel Metal Products and Kalispel Case Line were created as economic development for the Kalispel Tribal and community members back in the 1970s. Now, both companies generate income to support training opportunities at KCTC and provide employment opportunities. Ultimately, our goal is that both businesses will fully support our training program.

What types of products do KMP provide and who are your customers?

Kalispel Metal Products has an ever-expanding product line that encompasses commissioned metal sculptures, signs and markers, and even aluminum gun and bow cases under our Kalispel Case Line product line.

We’ve done a lot of work with small towns that have ordered benches, picnic tables, and trash can receptacles for their downtowns and parks. And one of our special vendors is a local florist that orders custom window boxes and large six-foot flowers that are amazing!

We work with specialty gun manufacturers that ship their expensive rifles and shotguns in our cases to their customers.

We have some big projects going on right now with the hotel expansion at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights, WA, and we just completed a life-sized tree for the Ronald McDonald House in Spokane, WA. The bark was all hand-welded, and each leaf displays the name of a donor. It has been one of our favorite projects.

This year, we also opened a showroom so that locals can shop in person to check out all the different types of products we produce.

Our KMP team is always very busy, especially with all the different custom projects. Not only are we teaching our Tribal and community members a trade, but we are also able to tap into their natural artistic abilities, and it shows in the projects once they are completed.

Talk about your internship program, how many Tribal and non-Tribal community members have participated?

Since 2015 we have had 31 participants in the program, 12 of which were enrolled Kalispel Tribal Members. Students can choose pre-apprenticeship programs in welding/fabrication and construction.

What is your goal for the internship program?

KCTC provides vocational training and work-based learning to any community member who wants to increase their skill set in preparation for self-sustaining employment opportunities. Each participant is allowed to learn and grow as an individual while completing projects that improve the community in which they live. The journeymen at KCTC teach students the skills they need to advance their career and to obtain living-wage jobs that support themselves and their families. KCTC offers community members job shadowing and apprenticeship opportunities at KMP and with the Kalispel Tribe’s construction crew.

Do interns become master metal workers and move on to work permanently with KMP or other businesses?

Yes, many of the apprentices in welding/fabrication are hired as production specialists at KMP or work for the Tribe as carpenters or in maintenance. It always makes me so happy to see the students grow into their careers, and I am proud of our Tribe and the work we are doing.

How do you interest kids that are still in high school?

Summer youth take Head Start to the Construction Trades. The Kalispel Tribe has a summer youth program, so any Kalispel Tribal member or descendant, as well as any local youth, or enrolled/descendant of another Tribe can participate. It’s great that these kids can have jobs across our businesses, from the golf course to KNRD – our natural resources department, and much more. However, they also can complete their Head Start to the Construction Trades with us for the summer. This year, our summer youth completed a display deck that was featured at NQRC for a month. The deck showcased both Kalispel Metal Products and Kalispel Case Line products. These are paid positions for our youth, and it helps not only ignite their love for the trades but teaches them about being on time, working hard, and being a team player. We also partner with our local high school, which has limited trades classes, and we have a senior who will be joining us in the afternoons to get some more hands-on experience.

You offer some pieces of artwork that are not shown on your website that might be of interest to individuals. Explain what these are?

I love the plant holders, garden stakes, custom metal signs/artwork. Our Facebook and Instagram pages are great places to check out these types of products. These items change frequently and are so customizable that it’s a challenge to keep them in stock!

Does the Kalispel Tribe offer any other programs or internships?

Kalispel Career Readiness Program was developed to support Kalispel Tribal Members in career development. This is another program that is outside of KCTC, in which members and our community members can get help, work on resumes, find job training, and placements within our many businesses or the Tribal government.

Christine Faria 30 Articles