Empowering Aboriginal Peoples to help fill the holes in Canada’s labour market

A recent article in the Globe and Mail identified gaps in the Canadian labour market that have been exposed by the latest economic downturn. Canadian Aboriginal peoples have been identified as a “huge pool of untapped labour” to help fill these gaps. 

The article was based on research from the C.D. Howe Institute, a leading Canadian policy think-tank, which identified a trend of rising demand for high-skilled jobs compared to middle- and low-skilled roles.  The report, “Job One is Jobs: Workers Need Better Policy Support and Stronger Skills”, states that between 1999-2012, the demand for high-skilled jobs rose 10% in Canada, compared to a 5% decrease for middle-skilled positions and a negligible increase for low-skilled workers.

Based on the projections from the Bank of Canada, employment numbers will continue to disappoint in 2016 as commodities slide.  That means that a growing number of people will need support to find employment.  The report identified 4 priority areas for consideration in policy-making and programming to address these issues:

  • social programming (EI, social assistance, disability) changes
  • a need for detailed and accessible labour market information
  • skills development
  • removing barriers to success for youth, Aboriginal peoples, and immigrants

The full report can be accessed at the C.D. Howe Institute website: www.cdhowe.org.

The Role of Aboriginal Peoples

Of particular interest was how Aboriginal peoples can help to meet the demand of high-skilled workers. The report states, “the labour market outcomes of Aboriginal and First Nations people are unacceptable” (p. 8).  According to the NB Department of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour (DPETL), these outcomes include a 20.8% unemployment rate along with educational attainment rates that trail the rest of the province in high school and post-secondary education completion.

Skills development, including education, is of utmost importance in changing these outcomes.  This is especially true given the rising demand for high-skilled workers and the young and growing Aboriginal population.  While funding is needed to address the skills development challenge, it is not the only answer.  Additional challenges include:

  • geographical barriers 
  • poor attendance
  • lack of parental support
  • limited knowledge of the opportunities and benefits of skills development
  • discrimination

Treaty rights were also identified as a key factor to improve employment in Aboriginal communities.  “A recent C.D. Institute Howe report found that modern treaties have raised real income by 17 percent for bands, with the increase largely driven by employment income (Aragón 2015)” (p. 9).  In New Brunswick, royalties and land claim payments can provide strategic community investments to help alleviate the employment challenges of band members.

In conclusion, the report states: “A very Canadian challenge is that no single level of government is responsible for labour market policy, and this can lead to an absence of leadership” (p. 10).  This represents an opportunity for Aboriginal communities to take the lead on their own labour market outcomes.  A collaborative effort is underway in NB for Aboriginal peoples to take ownership of their own labour market.  Skills development that is currently taking place in communities, improving educational outcomes, and the NB Aboriginal Skills Inventory are laying the groundwork for an Aboriginal-led solution to our labour market challenges.  This collaborative approach will empower Aboriginal peoples to help fill the holes in Canada’s labour market.

If you want to learn more about the NB Aboriginal Skills Inventory, training to employment for Aboriginal people in NB, or entrepreneur development, visit us online at: www.jedinb.ca; or call: (506) 444-5650.

Mike Hennessey

Mike Hennessey

Mike Hennessey, Aboriginal Labour Market Information Analyst, will be a monthly contributor to the JEDI blog. From Pabineau First Nation, Mike holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of New Brunswick and is currently finishing a Masters of Education at UNB. Mike is motivated to share relevant labour market information to help First Nations, industry, and government recognize the potential that lies in the Aboriginal workforce.