HR conference unlocks Aboriginal potential (Guest commentary)

Helping employers develop better understanding of the Aboriginal role in the workforce

During the first week of April, more than 300 HR professionals from every region of Canada gathered in Ottawa to share their knowledge and insight into Aboriginal recruitment, retention and advancement.

The Unlocking Aboriginal Potential in the Workplace conference was a sell out and a national first — bringing together delegates from government, the private sector, the Aboriginal community and training institutions.

Over a three-day period, the conference hosted a total of 55 speakers, including five keynote speakers and three Aboriginal entertainment acts, who performed for conference attendees at a gala event.

The conference’s main objective was to help employers develop better understanding and competencies on Aboriginal recruitment and retention.

“The advancement of Aboriginal people in the workplace is a complex issue that cannot be solved without thoughtful strategic consideration for the realities of the Aboriginal community and mainstream workforce,” said Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Council of Canada (AHRDCC) and conference host. “It gives me great pride to say that, even in the face of much adversity, the transformation of solutions and proof-of-concept for Aboriginal inclusion in the workplace is evident in Canada and at this conference.”

One of the major themes of the conference was the role of an Aboriginal workforce in Canada’s future growth and, while the country is currently enjoying a period of wealth and prosperity, there are troubling signs ahead in the form of staffing shortages.

With skilled labour shortages already affecting business growth, Canada’s Aboriginal peoples are poised to fill this void — provided that supportive training initiatives and career opportunities exist.

“To increase Aboriginal participation in the economy, more business leaders in Canada need to develop a better appreciation of the business case for hiring Aboriginal people,” said Lendsay. “They must encourage and adopt new policies and strategies… an investment is needed in the short and long-term development of an Aboriginal workforce.”

By bringing together like-minded HR practitioners, conferences such as Unlocking Aboriginal Potential in the Workplace will help foster strong networks of change as organizations and communities consider new ways to work with employers to prepare Aboriginal candidates for the future workforce.

“Focus on economic development is critical to Canada’s productivity,” said Chief Clarence Louie, Osoyoos Indian Band Development Corporation and AHRDCC board member. “However, attention must be given to the key driver of productivity — human resource development.”

As delegates left the conference with a better understanding of how the Aboriginal workforce could be accelerated into Canada’s growing labour market, many commented on the positive outcomes of an event that promoted a better understanding of the role of human resource development in general.

For those who missed the conference or for those who want to revisit favourite sessions or take advantage of missed seminars, keynote and workshop PowerPoint presentations will be posted on the AHRDCC website ( as they become available.

Peggy Berndt is manager, communications and marketing for the Aboriginal Human Resource Development Council of Canada in Stony Plain, Alta. She can be reached at [email protected].

Latest stories