Canadian Manufacturing

Aboriginal workers could alleviate labour, skills shortages: report

Improved education, work opportunities key, according to the Conference Board of Canada



Ottawa—Aboriginal workers may be the solution for Canadian businesses facing ongoing labour and skills shortages, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

The Conference Board’s new report, Understanding the Value, Challenges and Opportunities of Engaging Metis, Inuit and First Nations Workers, found that between 2001 and 2026, more than 600,000 Aboriginal youth are expected to enter the Canadian labour market.

But with low levels of formal education and a lack of work experience, the success of Aboriginal peoples in the workplace is being hindered.

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

According to the report, integrating more of the Aboriginal population into the workforce requires improving educational outcomes—particularly high school completion rates—and providing better opportunities to gain work experience.

Businesses that successfully hire and retain Aboriginal workers benefit in more ways than just finding qualified employees, according to the report, as doing so helps organizations build stronger connections and relationships within their local communities.

Hiring Aboriginal workers also has other benefits, the report says, as businesses become more diverse, and Aboriginal peoples who are successful in the workplace act as role models for others in their communities.

While the report found many Canadian businesses believe it is important to bring Aboriginal peoples into their workplaces, there are still challenges that stand in the way.

High school completion rates among Aboriginal peoples need improvement, particularly in Northern and remote communities.

The report notes 2006 Census results, which showed 34 per cent of the Aboriginal population aged 25 to 64 had not graduated high school or obtained another diploma or certificate.

These numbers compare to 15 per cent of the country’s non-Aboriginal population.

“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,” Howard said.

The report outlines a number of strategies to help in the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal peoples, including improving education, better coordinating between Aboriginal organizations and employers, raising cultural awareness in the workplace and increasing opportunities for sharing best practices and information with Aboriginal employment organizations.

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