by Stella Shepard
Sasha Burkitt of Charlottetown is working towards her goal of earning Red Seal Certified Chef and Red Seal Certified Pastry Arts certifications, and possibly launching a catering business someday.
Sasha graduated from the two-year Culinary Arts program at the Holland College Culinary Institute of Canada in 2021 with a 92.5 percent average and is now enrolled in the one-year Pastry Arts program.
The journey to a higher education was not an easy road for Sasha. Classroom learning is challenging because she is dyslexic.
For years, she worked at low-paying entry-level positions while parenting three children with her husband. She came to a crossroad in life at the age of 39. She chose to change directions and focus on a career that would be enjoyable, offer good employment prospects, and provide wages that could better support the family.
“My children are my inspiration,” says Sasha. “I want to provide them with opportunities for a good future. I want to own a house with an apartment for my daughter, who cannot live independently and needs to be nearby.”
Sasha stressed the importance of working in a career that would make her feel happy. “No matter what a person earns, it is not worth it to come home from a job feeling miserable and stressed. My children deserve quality time when I am at home with them.”
In 2018, Sasha completed a 14-week Level Entry Cooking program through the Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island (TIAPEI) and discovered a passion for the culinary world.
“I secured employment managing a kitchen at a resort, but lacked the skill sets for the position,” says Sasha. “I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, but I knew I couldn’t do that job and I didn’t want to be unemployed.”
Sasha contacted the chef she had worked with at the TIAPEI cooking program to ask for advice. He suggested she enroll in the two-year Culinary Arts program at the Holland College Culinary Institute of Canada and offered to provide a reference. She applied and was accepted in September 2019 but lacked a plan to pay for tuition.
The Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) program is designed to assist off-reserve Indigenous Peoples to prepare for and determine career paths.
The Native Council of PEI (NCPEI) administers the program as a sub-agreement with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
“Clients are offered educational supports, work placements, and much more,” says Nancy MacLean, Employment & Training Coordinator with NCPEI.
Those eligible to apply include Indigenous youth, women, men, single parents, mature workers, persons with disabilities, and those experiencing career change or transition.
Sasha learned about the NCPEI ISET program through the cooperative partnership with MCPEI Employment and Training Coordinator Cindy Midgley, and then contacted Nancy.
“The ISET program changed my life,” says Sasha, who is Mi’kmaq. “The financial assistance opened the door, and the emotional support from Nancy is what’s making it possible for me to continue and to achieve my career goal.
“I wanted a career I was happy with, and this would not have been possible without the support from the NCPEI.”
The ISET program is funded through partnership with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and Employment and Social Development Canada.