First Nations people underused human resource: Survey

Lack of candidates, qualifications top challenges for HR

Almost three-quarters (74.1 per cent) of HR professionals think First Nations people are an underutilized human resource, according to a Pulse Survey of 235 Canadian HR Reporter readers and members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

“I think there’s often not enough awareness sometimes with organizations themselves about the number of skilled First Nations people there are and often First Nations people don’t come forward and identify themselves as such,” said Janice Horton, HR consultant at MaxSys Consulting and Staffing in Ottawa who works with the federal government, most often with the Department of National Defence.

A lack of candidates was cited by 66.7 per cent of respondents as the top factor limiting the recruitment of First Nations individuals, followed by a lack of academic qualifications (54.7 per cent), lack of experience (46.2 per cent) and the location of candidates (34.7 per cent).

The lack of academic qualifications is certainly an issue for older generations, but this should become less of an issue over time as more and more young people focus on their education, said Robbie Niquanicappo, a policy analyst for the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba.

“We are churning out graduates from high school and we have a whole influx of young people looking at going to post-secondary schools,” he said, adding university graduates in his band talk to students coming out of high school about university and what it’s like and encourage them to attend.

“(First Nations people) are not being developed in schools for the non-Aboriginal workplace, work ethic or work culture so, in some ways, there’s that culture clash,” said Wendy Gregg, HR manager at Aquatera Utilities in Grande Prairie, Alta. “And there still exists a fair amount of discrimination and stereotyping that happens in the non-Aboriginal work world.”

Niquanicappo agreed the discrimination faced by First Nations people in the off-reserve workplace is a prevalent issue.

“Having worked at a non-Aboriginal setting, comments have been directed my way: ‘Oh, he got that job because he’s Indian,’ ‘Must be nice to have a treaty number’ and this and that,” said Niquanicappo, whose band employs about 600 people. “It’s humiliating to have to go through that, so I stopped applying years ago.”

But nearly one-third (31.5 per cent) of survey respondents have a clearly stated mission to encourage the recruitment of First Nations candidates.

About one-half (52.8 per cent) of survey respondents work at an organization with a mandated employment equity program. Over the last three years, 30.9 per cent said they had met their professional employment equity numbers in regards to First Nations people while 41.5 per cent had not.

However, being required to meet a quota for First Nations employees can actually work against an organization as it undermines the trust and relationships an employer is trying to build, said Gregg.

“Whenever we apply outside the reserve, the selling factor seems to be that I am an Aboriginal,” said Niquanicappo. “As an individual, I’d rather be taken strictly on my credentials and skills and whatnot… A lot are turned off by (quotas) and we simply won’t apply because of that.”

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