Aboriginal workers part of solution to labour shortages: Conference Board

Internships, cultural awareness can help boost hiring

Aboriginal workers can help address the labour and skills shortages that many Canadian businesses face, especially those located in the northern regions where resource development is creating a growing demand for workers.

Yet low levels of formal education and a lack of work experience hinder the success of Aboriginal Peoples in Canadian workplaces, according to a new Conference Board of Canada report.

“Soon, Canada will not have enough workers with the right skills to meet its labour needs. The Aboriginal population, including Inuit, Métis and First Nations, is the fastest-growing cohort in Canada, but it is underrepresented in the labour force compared to the non-Aboriginal population,” said Alison Howard, principal research associate at the Conference Board, and co-author of the report.

Integrating more of the Aboriginal population into Canadian workforces will require improving educational outcomes — especially high school completion rates — and providing better opportunities to gain work experience.

Between 2001 and 2026, more than 600,000 Aboriginal youth are expected to enter the Canadian labour market, found Understanding the Value, Challenges and Opportunities of Engaging Métis, Inuit, and First Nations Workers.

“Rather than focusing on the challenges associated with employing Aboriginal workers, businesses should tap into this underutilized source of talent to fill skill gaps and address current and future labour shortages,” said Howard.

Businesses that successfully hire and retain Aboriginal workers benefit in more ways than just finding qualified employees. Employing Aboriginal workers helps organizations build stronger connections and relationships within their local communities; businesses become more diverse and inclusive when they tap into the talents of Aboriginal workers; and Aboriginal Peoples who are successful in the workplace act as role models for others in their communities, found the report.

While many Canadian businesses say it is important to bring Aboriginal Peoples into their workplaces, challenges remain. High school completion rates are a key area requiring improvement, particularly in remote communities and those in the North.

According the 2006 Census, 34 per cent of the Aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had not completed high school or obtained another diploma or certificate, compared to 15 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population. The 2006 Census also found that 44 per cent of Canada’s Aboriginal population had completed post-secondary studies, compared with 61 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population, said the Conference Board.

This new report outlines strategies that can help to bolster the recruitment, hiring and retention of Aboriginal Peoples in Canadian workplaces. These include:

•Improve educational outcomes: Beyond high school, Aboriginal workers also need greater access to educational programs that allow them to learn or upgrade basic skills. Employers can offer mentoring, internships and job-shadowing opportunities.

•Simplify points of contact between Aboriginal organizations and employers: Better co-ordination among Aboriginal organizations to simplify points of contact for employers would make it easier for them to find and engage potential Aboriginal workers.

•Raise awareness of Aboriginal cultures: Cultural awareness programs can help to overcome negative stereotypes, racism and misunderstandings in the workplace.

•Increase opportunities for the sharing of best practices among Aboriginal employment organizations: Increased opportunities for Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) Agreement Holders to share information and best practices among themselves and with other organizations would strengthen their ability to provide services to both workers and employers.

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