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Northern Exposure: SuperHost goes to Nunavut

The hamlet of Kugaaruk, home to just 900 people on the coast of Nunavut’s Simpson Peninsula, isn’t the most accessible place to deliver SuperHost training, but for trainer Reid Nelson it was one of the most rewarding.

The SuperHost class in Kugaaruk, from left to right: Front row: Adrian, Reid, Sabrina. Back row: Ron, Mary Ann, Vicky, Sarina, Roger, Gary. Photo courtesy of Reid Nelson.

SuperHost offers customer service training for front-line employees in the tourism industry. And, although tourism isn’t a big part of the economy in the Eastern Arctic yet, this could change. The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror National Historic Site of Canada in nearby Gjoa Haven, where the wrecks of the Franklin Expedition were discovered in 2014 and 2016, is attracting international attention. That, and the advent of cruise ships through the Northwest Passage, promises to bring more visitors — and more tourism jobs — to the Eastern Arctic.

In February 2018 Nelson, an instructor with Northwest Community College (NWCC), delivered the course to seven students as part of a two week job readiness program organized by the region’s Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA).

A key issue was internet access, which in Kugaaruk, is limited at best. Normally, explains Nelson, a SuperHost program requires internet access so that trainees can complete an online exam at the end of the training day. Once they’ve successfully passed the exam, they receive their SuperHost certificate via email in a digital PDF format.

The challenge was to design and pilot an off-line option that could apply not just in Kugaaruk, but in other remote communities as well.

The team: Tanya Fisher, at NWCC’s Smithers campus and Dennis Green at go2HR, together with Reid Nelson and the KIA, came up with an innovative solution. The Moodle learning management system that go2HR uses for the exam and course delivery has a mobile app (https://bit.ly/2qQ9otk) , which enables certain course activities to be downloaded onto an Android or iOS device and accessed off-line. They preloaded the exam on to a dozen tablets, tested them extensively, and then airfreighted the tablets north about a month ahead of time. Once back in Smithers, the exams were synced with go2HR’s online learning management system.

“It worked well. The only real problem was that students could only take the test once; they didn’t have a chance to find out their scores immediately and retake the exam a second time, if necessary. Fortunately, most of them passed,” says Nelson. 

Adds Green: “The biggest challenge was knowing whether the technology was going to work. There’s not much you can do if it doesn’t — the cost to go back is prohibitive.”

The course also gave the trainees a chance to learn more about some of the tech tools that many other Canadians take for granted. “Half of the students didn’t have email or cell phones so, besides customer service skills, they also had a chance to learn more about using technology,” says Nelson.

The SuperHost program in Kugaaruk acted as a pilot project for off-line delivery of SuperHost in other remote areas. “We wanted to see if we could use new technology in communities that don’t yet have high speed internet access or reliable cell service. It’s not just in the Arctic – there are quite a few places in British Columbia with limited connectivity, and we can use this solution for them as well,” says Green.

For Nelson, the most memorable part of the trip was the people of Kugaaruk. “I was included in everything. In my spare time, I watched hockey games, visited with community elders, and met some seal researchers from York University. I felt very welcome in the community and by the end of the two weeks I knew almost everyone in town,” he recalls.

Nelson is already planning his next visit to Nunavut – he’ll be spending six weeks this fall delivering a range of courses, including SuperHost training, in the town of Kugluktuk.

His advice to others? “Do some research about the area so you can adapt the training to the kinds of jobs your trainees may have, whether in tourism or in other industries. Pack carefully: without internet access you’ll need to take everything with you; and, before you go, try spending 24 hours without a cell phone or a computer — it really changes the way you work.”

Nelson’s experience in Kugaaruk could soon be reaping benefits for other communities. Thanks to go2HR’s system for offline training, SuperHost instructors can now deliver the course anywhere in Canada, including remote communities with limited internet access.

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