As the natural resources industry booms and Canada’s economy continues to improve, the country faces a worsening skills gap and worker shortage. A new study indicates the answer might lie not in international workers, but in those who have been here the longest.
Inuit, Metis and First Nation people are underrepresented in the workforce, and they’re also less likely to finish high school or complete tertiary education. Turning those numbers around could be vital to the future of Canadian employers, according to a 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," Alison Howard said, co-author of Understanding the Value, Challenges, and Opportunities of Engaging Métis, Inuit, and First Nations Workers.
The board recommended companies start expanding their talent pool to include more Aboriginal groups now, while policy-makers take steps to improve educational outcomes.
"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 advantages go beyond filling shortages, the report also found. Hiring Aboriginal workers helped companies connect to their local communities while improving their own diversity, and providing others in the Aboriginal communities with role models.
"Increasing high school graduation rates and encouraging students to take courses that are required for employment is an important step," Anja Jeffrey, director of the Conference Board's Centre for the North said. "It's also important that long-term partnerships between communities, companies, and employment organizations are in place to build a sustainable and productive Aboriginal workforce."
The report outlined 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 coordination 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 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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