Collaboration key to Indigenous recruitment, retention, says report

Cultural awareness, education, training also identified as success factors

Collaboration key to Indigenous recruitment, retention, says report
Gold is poured at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank mine near Baker Lake, Nunavut, in 2011. Credit: REUTERS/Chris Wattie

For Agnico Eagle Mines, a gold mining company headquartered in Toronto with operations in northern Canada, finding qualified workers has been tough.

“The biggest challenge is our capacity to train people. On average, we are spending approximately $20,000 per year per Inuit to train,” said Dominique Girard, vice-president of Nunavut operations at Agnico.

“Where we’re investing, we look, for 2019, to put $8 million into training, which represents 21 per cent of the Inuit payroll.”

Agnico has implemented two main training programs to bring local Indigenous workers up to speed for its mining operation: work-readiness training and a career-path program, which saw about 160 people trained in 2018, 112 of whom went on to become employees of Agnico or one of its contractors, said Girard.

“The overall vision is to have our mine managed by Inuit. This is what is ongoing right now in Mexico, Finland and in Quebec; the only area where we’re not there is in Nunavut,” he said.

“That’s going to take time; that won’t happen overnight. But I was on-site this week and when I see happy faces, I see Inuit (who) are with us over the last 10 years and proud, proud people of what they are doing.”

Partnerships important

In partnering more with communities in northern Canada, employers stand the best chance of success with both the recruitment and retention of Indigenous workers, along with focusing on education, training and cultural awareness, according to a Conference Board of Canada report.

“Companies and public sector organizations — almost without fail — the more they tend to collaborate and work with local communities and local organizations and agencies, particularly Indigenous organizations, communities and agencies, the more they are able to effectively engage in outreach and recruitment strategies that make sense at the local level that are actually reaching the right individuals,” said Stefan Fournier, associate director of northern and Aboriginal policy at the Conference Board of Canada in Ottawa.

Working Together: Indigenous Recruitment and Retention in Remote Canada is based on input from an expert advisory committee, interviews with subject matter experts, case illustrations of best practices, a review of relevant policy and research — along with a survey of 176 private, government and not-for-profit groups that operate in Canada’s territories and northern provincial areas.

It also provides 12 recommendations for employers around successful recruitment and retention.

Potential barriers

Numerous factors were identified as barriers to recruiting Indigenous employees, the top three being a lack of education or training credentials among Indigenous candidates; a lack of technical, job-related skills; and finding Indigenous candidates to interview or recruit (meaning challenges in outreach).

“Organizations say they have trouble identifying suitable candidates and that their outreach efforts aren’t actually reaching their intended targeted audiences,” said Fournier.

This is true, but what’s first missing is attraction, according to Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of Indigenous Works, a Saskatoon-based employment and engagement social enterprise.

“Attraction comes ahead of recruitment. What’s your brand? How are you viewed? How are you perceived? It doesn’t matter if you’re native or non-native, do your values align with the organization? Are you OK working in mining? Are you OK working in a non-profit?”

It is up to northern employers to partner with local agencies to achieve this goal of attracting candidates, he said.

“For example, the way to address lack of interviewing, you can actually collaborate and work with Indigenous employment centres and get them to help identify, screen, bring in and introduce people to interview,” said Lendsay.

But there is a general lack of funding for these types of efforts, he said.

“There’s a capacity challenge on the Indigenous side. We just don’t have enough feet on the ground.”

“There’s not enough people out there doing this active outreach and so on, so it really comes back to who is actually out there marching (out) these messages, bringing these together. And I know this first-hand, because the government’s not giving us federal funding to go around and do this and every province and territory — all those have been cut back. And in some ways, the collaboration, the engagement process, has to happen before you even get a job. No one wants to pay for that anymore, people are saying, ‘Just develop the skills and get a job,’” said Lendsay.

For retaining employees, many challenges come down to a lack of understanding, said the report.

The survey showed that over 50 per cent of respondents did not think that biases or cultural insensitivity of employees, biases in recruitment or hiring tests and assessments, agreements on work hours, or agreements on competitive pay were significant barriers to Indigenous recruitment.

However, “employees’ lack of awareness of Indigenous culture” was selected as the third most-common reason Indigenous employees voluntarily leave their organization, which contradicts the lowest-ranked barrier to recruitment.

For Canadian companies on a whole, the Indigenous engagement effort is lacking, said Lendsay.

“We did the largest study on corporate engagement in 2017: 85 per cent of corporations are disengaged, they have no Indigenous engagement, partnership strategies or practices; they had an engagement score of only 13 out of 100. And only one in four recognize the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission of Canada) calls to action,” he said. “So, basically, it’s not on the radar screen.”

“The reality is Indigenous people are leaving (workplaces) and one of the key reasons is there is a lack of cultural competence (that) actually helps you improve real skills and actually improves the performance of the organization.”

As part of Agnico’s outreach effort, the company is training employees on cultural sensitivity, said Girard.

“Another one we have in place is cross-cultural training and this is done for everybody on-site to make sure people understand each other. We also developed leadership development programs to ensure we really spend time with our leaders so that they understand the cultural differences, which is really important.”

Benefits to Indigenous hiring

Despite the challenges, there are definite benefits to recruiting Indigenous employees, said the experts.

“It just makes good business sense to be hiring at the local level, as opposed to relocating folks from down south and other parts of the country; it’s a lot more costly and you don’t enjoy the same level of loyalty on the part of your workforce when you’re bringing them in from distant locations,” said Fournier.

For companies that want to invest in corporate social responsibility (CSR), hiring Indigenous workers in one of the best ways to accomplish that, said Lendsay.

“They’re addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, so they can actually say, ‘I’m committed, I’m actually responding and dealing with the truth’ and they can say, ‘I’m educating my employees.’ Companies are investing in CSR because there is a business case. If you can show that you’re addressing socio-economic priorities, you’re going to win over those dollars.”

At Agnico, the training efforts are paying off, said Girard.

“We have a really good success story. Natasha (an Indigenous employee) started as a dishwasher and she’s now driving our biggest shovel, which the value is over $4 million. She’s the first Inuk driving those types of equipment so that’s a very interesting success,” he said.

“Those career path (programs have) been the anchor of what we’re doing: We’ve trained over 500 Inuit.”

12 recommendations for success


• Build trust and genuine understanding with Indigenous communities and leaders.

• Partner with Indigenous communities on recruitment campaigns and to design job opportunities.

• Adjust the hiring process to meet Indigenous realities.

• Offer pre-employment training.

• Identify and, where possible, address underlying barriers.

• Partner with educational institutions.

• Offer youth development programs.


• Implement effective and meaningful inclusion practices.

• Mandate cultural awareness training.

• Accommodate traditional practices and community or family obligations.

• Clarify career paths and provide professional development opportunities.

• Offer mentorship, coaching or cohort programs.

Source: Conference Board of Canada

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