Kitselas Five Tier Community-Built Job and Skills Training System

Kitselas Five Tier System (K5T)

K5T is a community-built and driven social enterprise system working within the community social services space to promote employment and skills training for marginalized community members within Kitselas First Nation and the greater North Okanagan

In November 2023, Kitselas Five Tier System LP (K5T) began a research project to better understand the experiences that Kitselas First Nation (KFN) Members have with higher education and the community social services sector. Specifically, the project aimed to answer the following research questions:

  • What are the barriers that KFN Members face in pursuing higher education?
  • What are the barriers that prevent KFN Members from completing higher education?
  • What are the gaps in services between the higher education sector and the community social services sector?
  • What are current gaps and opportunities to support community members in pursuing career pathways in the community social services sector?
  • How can the lived experiences of K5T staff and graduates be leveraged to provide peer mentorship and support for community members navigating post-secondary, labour market, and other systems?
  • What assets and strengths, including existing peer supports and Indigenous ways of knowing and being, can be leveraged to increase linkages between community social services sector and higher education for KFN members?

Based on the answers to these research questions, they then aimed to:

  • Design a pilot program that builds upon community assets and strengths to highlight opportunities to reduce barriers and fill service gaps for KFN Members.
  • Communicate the private and collective benefits from the completion of a higher education program and career pathways in the community social services sector.

Preliminary Findings

Data for this research project was collected from the following sources:

  1. A literature review of academic and grey literature
  2. Discussions with a Working Group comprised of representatives from K5T, KFN and Coast Mountain College (a post-secondary institution in Terrace, BC)
  3. Semi-structured interviews with KFN Members, KFN staff, and education partners

Some of the barriers and service gaps faced by KFN Members in relation to higher education include:

  • Ongoing impacts of residential schools and other assimilationist policies
    • Intergenerational trauma from residential schools continues to impact First Nations students differently from other domestic and international students
  • Socioeconomic barriers
    • Trauma and stigma lead some First Nations students to associate education with abuse
    • Underrepresentation of First Nations people within higher education
    • Student services are not fully tailored to address barriers faced by First Nations students
    • On average, KFN students are older than other domestic and international student groups, resulting in a different set of needs based on their life circumstances
  • Financial supports
    • Lack of financial literacy training related to higher education
    • Prevailing perception that collecting social assistance is “normal”, reducing the desire for some First Nations students to seek higher education
    • KFN students often described needing to support their families while managing studies

Despite the barriers and challenges that KFN members in higher education face, the K5T also identified some strengths and progress that has already been made to better support First Nations students. This includes:

  • Mentorship & peer supports
    • Coast Mountain College employs a First Nations Access Coordinator whose goal is to support Indigenous students and focus on “the Indigenization of its curriculum, programming and services”.
    • Culturally-appropriate student housing which incorporates traditional knowledge and cultural practices—such as sharing traditional meals and learning about the land
    • Development of a close-knit community of KFN Members who support each other and encourage peer mentorship and intergenerational learning
  • Partnerships with other organizations
    • Contract North BC: Provides local learning centers in 28 First Nation communities across Northwest BC
    • Partnerships with local school districts: To create duel credit and other programs to support the transition from high school to post-secondary institutions
    • Northern First Nations Alliance: meet regularly to discuss ways that member Nations can support each other, collaborate on solutions to shared challenges, and join together to advocate for community members’ needs
  • Community-based education and work-integrated learning
    • WIL opportunities benefit the community by filling staffing needs within administration and while providing students with experience that contributes towards their education
    • KFN partnered with institutions such as Royal Roads University and Coast Mountain College to provide certificate-based programs and community-based programming

Kitselas’s Five Tier System Model

K5T continues to support KFN work-integrated learning students through its partnerships with local and regional employers and post-secondary institutions. The Five Tier System was developed by Kitselas First Nation community members. It is a collaborative, partnership-based model that focuses on self-directed personal and professional growth that is tailored to each participant. The five tiers include:

  1. Wholistic healing
  2. Skills for success
  3. Work experience
  4. Advanced Training
  5. Job placement


To learn more about the Five Tier System, see the full description on K5T website.

To learn more about this research project and its findings, view the entire body of work here:

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