Pathways to Shipbuilding - Her True Calling: Meet Tonia Marshall

April 24, 2017

Within the walls of the assembly hall at the Halifax Shipyard a team of over 1,360 is hard at work building ships for Canada. Tonia Marshall is hard at work building a more diverse shipbuilding workforce. 

Tonia is the program coordinator of Pathways to Shipbuilding and was profiled by True Calling Canada, a group of writers and filmmakers with the mission to share stories to inspire people to make a change in career and life. 


Pathways to Shipbuilding is a collaboration of ten industry, government, and Indigenous partners announced for an education and apprenticeship program to create job opportunities for Indigenous students in metal fabrication. The program, offered through the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Akerley Campus in Dartmouth, offers successful students the unique opportunity to build a lasting career in shipbuilding at Irving’s Halifax Shipyard.

Kevin McCoy, President of Irving Shipbuilding, points out the talent the Pathways to Shipbuilding program brings to the Halifax Shipyard, "Pathways to Shipbuilding is an exciting part of our workforce strategy that increases trades specific skills and creates long-term metal fabrication career opportunities for Indigenous Canadians. Our work at the Halifax Shipyard building ships for Canada as part of the National Shipbuilding Strategy will increase our workforce by 1,000 shipbuilders over the next five to ten years. It is important that we seek out the best talent from all across the country. Good luck to the students as they begin their metal fabrication training."

Building Ships, Building Confidence
Tonia says the confidence gained through the program training inspires students, “The impact the program has on the students is that they believe they can do this,” Tonia said. “They have this community of people who believe in them and want them to do well. It builds their confidence.”

The program integrates education, industry and community partnerships to develop a model that successfully creates pathways for Indigenous Canadians to enter the shipbuilding industry. Over the course of the two-year program, participants learn and work together, and are mentored and coached by community and industry supporters, including Indigenous employees working at the Halifax Shipyard.

Today, there are 19 students from NSCC participating in the Pathways to Shipbuilding Program.

A Rewarding Career 
Tonia describes her job as rewarding, connecting people with skills and jobs at the Halifax Shipyard. “It gives me a good sense of accomplishment that I’m helping people achieve their goals and achieve their dreams.”

Looking Ahead
In the next three to five years, Irving Shipbuilding Inc. anticipates that the industry will undergo significant growth as a result of the National Shipbuilding Strategy. In anticipation of this, Irving Shipbuilding’s Centre of Excellence is dedicated to providing pathways for Nova Scotians to enter the shipbuilding industry, with particular focus on under-represented groups. 

Successful graduates who meet employment eligibility criteria will be employed by Irving Shipbuilding at the end of the two-year diploma program as positions become available in 2018 and beyond.

Thank you to Pathways Partners
The Pathways to Shipbuilding collaboration includes: Irving Shipbuilding Inc., GE Canada, Unifor, Nova Scotia Community College, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Aboriginal Affairs (OAA), the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, and Labour and Advanced Education (LAE). 

The Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Centre in Halifax is the community partner for the program and will be managing – in collaboration with other Indigenous organizations – the recruitment process and providing support services to the students in Halifax.