Aboriginal employment growth spurt in West

Rate twice that of non-aboriginal population in Western Canada

Aboriginal people in Western Canada are experiencing a higher employment rate than that of non-Aboriginals, according to a new Statistics Canada study.

The study compared employment of off-reserve Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations in Western Canada.

Aboriginal employment increased 23 per cent between 2001 and 2005, twice the rate of growth of only 11 per cent for non-Aboriginals, the study found.

During the same period, the Aboriginal unemployment rate fell from 15.5 per cent to 12.1 per cent, while their participation rate rose, particularly among women.

Part of the increase is probably due to the increasingly tighter labour market conditions, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia.

Nevertheless, significant disparities remain between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. In 2005, the unemployment rate of the Aboriginal population was 2.5 times that of non-Aboriginal population.

Also, the employment gap was high in cities such as Regina and Saskatoon, where a large portion of the Aboriginal population lives.

Alberta leads the way

Alberta led job growth in the West, with an unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent in 2005, so not surprisingly, Aboriginal people in Alberta had the highest labour force participation rate, 70 per cent of the working-age population, as well as highest employment rate (64 per cent) and the lowest unemployment rate (8.5 per cent).

Aboriginal people in Manitoba and British Columbia saw the highest growth in employment between 2001 and 2005. In Manitoba, their employment increased 30 per cent, five times the rate of growth among non-Aboriginals.

The participation rate of British Columbia's Aboriginal population was 66 per cent, lower than Alberta's. However, it was up from 2001. In contrast, Saskatchewan continued to have the lowest Aboriginal employment rate (52 per cent), despite a small increase since 2001.

In Western Canada overall, the gap in employment rates between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginals narrowed between 2001 and 2005. The rate increased by one percentage point among non-Aboriginals, while rising strongly among Aboriginal people.

Saskatchewan also had the largest employment rate gap in 2005 (14 percentage points compared with 7 for all of Western Canada).

Education makes the difference

The study showed that postsecondary education helps eliminate the employment gap. Aboriginal people who held a university degree had an employment rate of 84 per cent in 2005, surpassing the rate of 77 per cent among the non-Aboriginal population.

In contrast, among the least educated, that is, those with no high school diploma, employment rates were low for both populations. In 2005, the employment rate for the Aboriginal population was 36 per cent, compared with 41 per cent for the non-Aboriginal population.

The impact of postsecondary education on employment is particularly strong for Aboriginal women. Those with a university education had an employment rate of 85 per cent compared with 74 per cent for non-Aboriginal women.

Between 2001 and 2005, Western Canada added over 283,000 jobs requiring a college diploma or certificate, or apprenticeship training, accounting for just over 60 per cent of job growth.

Aboriginal people accounted for about 15,000 of these positions, 46 per cent of their total job growth during these years. This suggests that Aboriginal workers are starting to fill the need for high-demand skills.

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