Based in Fort MacKay and Fort McMurray, Alberta, ICEIS Safety provides full-service occupational health and safety consulting via its experienced consultants. The company also offers training programs and staffing with skilled labour.
ICEIS Safety owner and CEO Massey Whiteknife has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to own a business. He came from a small community and went to school in Fort McMurray during the day while working a night shift as a custodian with Suncor.
“I decided one day that I should not be cleaning the office; I should be sitting in it,” he shares. “Then I thought, ‘why sit in the office, when I could run it?’ I became a supervisor, and clients noticed that I was very productive and safe. It was suggested that I become a safety officer.”
Massey went back to school to become a National Construction Safety Officer with the ACSA (Alberta Construction Safety Association) and a Certified Safety Auditor. He loved this work and enjoyed the responsibility.
Despite his new title, Massey craved the larger challenges associated with owning one’s own business and worked hard in order to be in a position to start his own venture into the business world. He saved, went to the registry and incorporated his company. After successfully acquiring a loan, he was underway, but Massey is homosexual and was told that he should act “straight” because the town was very “closed-minded”.
“I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin,” he says of identifying as a two-spirited Aboriginal man. “It didn’t feel good to lie about my sexuality and my mentor’s advice was not helping. After going broke, I fired them and had to roll up my sleeves and go back to work as a safety officer.”
Massey saved up another $15,000 and started anew, but this time, he did it his way. He became a safety consultant helping Aboriginal businesses to get safety certificates in order to work in the industry. He built up a network and branched out into safety training and supplies, recognizing the value of vertical integration.
For $3,000, Massey bought a gutted bus. With this bus, he was able to provide supplies and training. He would be in the bus from 6 a.m., driving to suppliers, picking up the necessary equipment, scheduling training and delivering supplies. Arriving home by 2 a.m., he still had to go through invoicing and get a couple hours of sleep before starting the process all over again.
Massey did that for a year and built up a clientele. He challenged one of his clients, SNC Lavalin, to give him a 600 man camp and supply it for one year. After a year, the company was so impressed that he was awarded a 5,000 man camp. He was then able to invest in a new cube van sporting decals with the company logo.
“SNC believed in me enough – the one man show with the bus – and gave me the 5,000 man contract. I got more trainers that I contracted out and was doing safety consulting for seven companies. From that point, the company grew by four hundred percent per year.”
ICEIS Safety now predominantly serves the oil and gas and construction sectors.
As the business grew, Massey had to hire a bookkeeper to keep up. He entered into a Fort McKay incubator program that gave him an increased knowledge of the industry and helped with his marketing and advertising efforts, as well as communication and procurement. It aided him as a business owner in learning more about legal issues, insurance, pricing, etc. Customer service improved, and so did his bottom line.
He is a full member of the North Eastern Aboriginal Business Association, which includes 216 fully First Nations-owned companies. “Being Aboriginal certainly has helped me to get work from those organizations. One of my biggest supporters is Bouchier Contracting. They believed in me, and they believe in supporting Aboriginal businesses. I owe everything to them and a lot of the companies in the community, like Fort Mackay First Nations.”
Many companies in the community have supported him because ICEIS Safety delivers. Massey does not want ICEIS to be looked at as just another Aboriginal company that is owed some work, but as a safety company that delivers exceptional service, on time, and that gives value to clients.
One of the primary services that ICEIS offers is safety consulting. It helps companies start entire safety programs, from the safety manuals to a management system. ICEIS supplies companies with all the documents and forms in order for them to gain safety certification. It also provides safety officers and specialists who help to manage safety programs for long or short term duration.
“We also offer safety training and just started with corporate training to better develop internally. We do Aboriginal awareness, which couples an Aboriginal with a non-Aboriginal and deals with stigmatization within the industry and, of course, we deliver safety supplies.”
Part of what makes ICEIS work is the ability to obtain high-quality products and services at competitive prices. This is accomplished through research as Massey is always searching for new suppliers and new products. “I am always on the lookout for a new supplier that is coming out with something which will better protect employees and then I can show it to the clients.” Many of the suppliers are Canadian as Massey believes that Canada produces very high-quality products.
ICEIS also provides camps with items such as janitorial supplies. Massey started by buying from one supplier who was, in turn, buying from someone else. As the company grew, Massey could buy in bulk and straight from the distributor to keep prices low.
On the training side, is ICEIS’ Get Ready program. Many adults and teens have taken the program, which has been in place for about three years. ICEIS developed the accredited program of twelve safety courses to be taken over a seven day period. Once the candidates take the training, they are certified by the globally recognized Canadian Council of Professional Certification and by Indigenous Canada, which is a Canada-wide certification.
“It was a passion of mine to develop this program, because it was a program developed by me for my people so that they can get full-time employment. It is fundamental training needed to get work at a job site in the oil and gas sector, construction or mining sector.”
Massey underwent a similar program, with a non-Aboriginal company, when he was a teen. “They gave courses that we did not even need; they were basically there to get a paycheck. I developed the program so that, after the seven days and twelve courses, we are still involved by helping with resumes and a one-year mentorship.”
Get Ready has an eighty percent success rate in gaining full-time employment for its graduates. Graduates of the program may call on ICEIS trainers for guidance and the company also helps by sending out resumes to companies within the region.
“It’s not just about youth. I want to see this program across Canada – in jails and institutions as well. If there is a lot of money to be allocated to Aboriginals in these institutions, why not give them these programs? This way they can be certified so that when they get out they can have a second chance at life.”
He cares about the community, and his company gives back. “I sponsor a lot of not-for-profit organizations and give back a lot of money to help others. For Christmas, I gave 1,200 blankets to the shelters in Edmonton and in Fort McMurray. I helped out the SPCA, Girls Inc., etc.”
ICEIS also runs an anti-bullying campaign every year, the proceeds of which benefit non-profit organizations. It is a cause close to Massey’s heart. When he came out, he did not want to be seen only as an Aboriginal homosexual, but a person who is more than competent as a businessman and who gives exceptional service. This aim was validated in 2011 when he won the Youth Entrepreneur of Alberta from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce.
The whole journey for Massey has been overwhelming in terms of the support he has received, and he is both grateful and humble. “I wanted to thank the community of Fort McKay for their support and also the CCAB – Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business – of which I am a member. Lastly the Chamber of Commerce and NAABA – Northeastern Alberta Aboriginal Business Association.”