The Adventures of Employment and Training

March 20, 2017 - It’s been about six months since I have been in the position of Labour Force Researcher for the Thunder Bay District Local Employment Planning Council. To say the least, it has been an eye opening experience to discover the number of support services available for those who are looking to enter the workforce or need help navigating the systems. I can remember when I was young, we learned about resume writing and cover letters in school, but one thing that was missing was providing an understanding of all the systems in place.  Think about it, where did you learn how to job search? Or what was it that helped you decide ‘what you wanted to be when you grew up’?  Going even further, how did you learn that it was important to wake up and go to work in the morning?  What made you get your driver’s license? These are all things that, interestingly enough, come up as barriers to employment for many people who have ‘fallen through the cracks’ per say.

When we take a look at Indigenous participation in the workforce in Canada, we can easily see that it is not proportionate to the population. Statistics have shown that there is a wide disparity in the employment rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. The 2011 National Household Survey Aboriginal Demographics, Educational Attainment and Labour Market Outcomes report Labour Market Activity for Aboriginal Population and finds:

  • The Aboriginal population aged 25-64 years s (i.e. working-age) increased by 21% between 2006 and 2011 to reach 671,380, of whom 481,325 participated in the labour force (72%). By comparison, the number of other Canadians in this age group increased by only 5% between 2006 and 2011.
  • The employment rate for the Aboriginal working-age population has remained stable at about 63% since 2006. However, it is still much lower than the rate for non-Aboriginal individuals (76%).
  • The unemployment rate for the working-age Aboriginal population is more than twice the rate for other Canadians of the same age (13% versus 6%). Nevertheless, the gap between the two populations narrowed slightly going from a difference of eight percentage points in 2006 to seven in 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1376329205785/137632923875

So why is this? I’ve been asking this question to a number of service organizations, job seekers and job developers in the Thunder Bay District who have the mandate of mentorship, education, employment and or employment supports to ease access into the Canadian workforce for Indigenous peoples.  From my conversations, I’ve come up with a list of the following top 5 barriers:

  1. Literacy and education
  2. Cultural differences leading to misunderstandings from other coworkers
  3. Racism/discrimination/stereotypes
  4. The interview process
  5. Lack of a driver’s license

In the Thunder Bay District, Indigenous peoples make up 8 per cent of the population; according to the latest National Household Survey (NHS) (2011). Across Canada, Indigenous peoples represent only 4.3 per cent, although that percentage has increased since the 2006 Census (from 3.8 percent). Thus, the data shows that the Thunder Bay District has almost twice the percentage of Indigenous Peoples in comparison to Canada. The NHS also highlighted the fact that the Indigenous  population is growing at almost quadruple the rate of the non-Indigenous population (20.1 per cent compared to 5.2 per cent).  Further, Indigenous children aged 14 and under make up 28 percent of the total Indigenous population across Canada, with non-Indigenous children aged 14 and under making up 16.5 per cent of Canada’s population.  Lastly,about 6% of the total Indigenous population were seniors aged 65 and over, less than half of the proportion of seniors in the non-Indigenous population (14.2%).

So you get the picture that the Indigenous population is young – and growing. For employers and those with a focus on workforce development, this is a key indicator as to what types of programming and strategies are needed to attract and retain Indigenous job-seekers and employees.  Thus, it is important for us to examine the barriers to Indigenous employment and find ways to overcome them as this segment of the population will be part of the answer to Northern Ontario’s workforce shortage and increasing dependency ratio. It simply cannot be ignored.


Literacy and Education 

Although, according to the latest statistics Canada data, Indigenous educational attainment is increasing at all levels (high school through to post-secondary), the majority of unemployed Indigenous people have not attained a high school education. Unfortunately, often enough, it is this segment of people who are looking to enter the Canadian workforce, but face barriers that are often too overwhelming.

So, for those who have fallen through the cracks; what do we do and how can we do it? If you don’t take the typical Canadian path to employment (high school, summer jobs, post-secondary, entry-level positions to career), then what does the path become?

I’ve been working with a few organizations that offer supports to those looking to further their participation in the workforce. Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment & Training Service (KKETS), has been given the mission “to provide culturally appropriate opportunities for education, training and employment by providing professional advisory, support services, relevant systems and programs to empower individuals to take initiative for change in their own lives,” (Retrieved from http://www.kkets.ca/?page_id=754, January 12, 2017). I’ve met the staff and team over there, and if you really want to succeed and make a change in your life, all the supports are there.  They have all the options; adult education for those who want to go on to post-secondary; employment services to help you develop the skills need to search for jobs, write resumes and complete interviews  and the connection to employers with demand driven training, apprenticeships, and specific mining sector training. Keep an eye-out for the release of the KKETS Job Seekers Perspectives Video in early February at www.openingdoors4u.ca

Even for those Indigenous job seekers without a traditional education, there are options and supports available to find employment. KKETs and others are working hard to support individuals in achieving their employment goals.

Cultural differences leading to misunderstanding with other coworkers

Often times, it is strictly a misunderstanding that leads to conflicts occurring between people with different cultural backgrounds in the workplace. It is important for employers to ensure their workforce maintains an appropriate level of cultural awareness to ensure non- Indigenous workers understand and support cultural values and diversity (7 First Nation Worker Retention Strategies Posted by Bob Joseph on May 14, 2014, www.ictinc.ca/blog )It is also important, however, for the employer to give every employee a thorough briefing on the expectations of them while at work. Remember to ask yourself, where did I learn my work ethic? Does the employee understand what is expected of them? Have I laid out my expectations in an orientation package? If you have answered no to any of these questions, you will have a hard time retaining, not only Indigenous, but any employees.


Racism/discrimination/stereotypes

Nobody likes to talk about it and often times there is much controversy created when people do talk about it. But let’s face it, in Thunder Bay there is a racism problem. There are numerous accounts of hate crimes, assaults, deaths and public rants about Indigenous peoples.  There have also been stories of young people changing their last names on a job application so they can pass the resume screening stage and land an interview (Walk a Mile Project, 2012.)  What can we do? How do we begin to influence attitudes of employers as well as the public? What does reconciliation look like in the city?  I’m not about to get into that debate here, but the Local Employment Planning Council is heading up the Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan Project (Opening Doors for You) which is a positive reinforcement project that provides employers with encouragement and tips towards hiring a diverse workforce. The project will also include a positive messaging social media campaign which will highlights all of the positive initiatives, stories and successes in Indigenous and newcomer employment.  They have also invested in a job matching platform called Magnet  that matches job seekers to jobs based on the skills needed by the employer. These matches indicates skillset only and include no information that could be used to discriminate against the candidate. It is a small step in a long journey, but it’s a start.


The interview process

The dreaded interview; am I saying the right things? Am I dressed properly? Do they like my experience? Am I showing enough enthusiasm? These are all questions I ask myself before an interview, as I am sure many others do as well.  But that’s me, an Ojibwe Irish French Scottish woman born and raised in Northern Ontario. I call myself Canadian, I grew up understanding Canadian workplace culture and understood the expectations of shall we say ‘non-Indigenous’ interviewers.  But the interview process in Canada can be very discriminatory when it comes to those of different cultures.  In an article published by the Construction Sector Council in 2010, they talk about the interview process and some things to pay attention to and be aware of when it comes to culture.

For example, in non-Indigenous Canada, candidates are expected to be excited about the position but not overly excited. Those who display little or no emotion or are overly emotional may be judged as not having interest in the position…or how about silence? In non-Indigenous Canadian culture we tend to allow for only a short period of silence between speakers before people begin to feel uncomfortable, but for an Indigenous person, silence can just mean that the thought requires more reflection. For more information on inclusive interviewing please visit openingdoors4u.ca. One last one to think about though, the dreaded ‘tell me about yourself and your achievements’ question. Indigenous people are generally very modest and may find it hard to ‘toot their own horn’.  The key thing to remember is, not everyone has the same ideologies or understands what is expected; so employers need to ensure that their expectations are clear.


Lack of a Driver’s License

For so many Canadians getting your driver’s license is almost a rite of passage in life. I can remember when I was fifteen eagerly awaiting the day I turned sixteen and could book a written exam.  I couldn’t wait for the day to have a car and be able to drive around and have some freedom. Indeed, I lived in Caramat, so if I wanted to go anywhere I needed a vehicle; the closest grocery store was a 35 min drive and my high school was an hour and ten minutes away.  But getting my drivers license was easy for me; I had all my Government issued  ID, and I watched my mom and dad drive to work every day which taught me that licensing is a privilege and a necessity for work.  My dad would take me out and show me how to handle my vehicle in the winter and I could get to Geraldton (1:10 min) to write the test as part of the licensing process.  However, according to an article published on Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples, for those who live in remote communities, getting a driver’s license can be a really big deal. An Indigenous individual living in a remote, fly-in community has to fly out to an urban centre, pay for the classroom component, pay for in-car training, and for accommodation for however long the process takes – this is not an insignificant amount of money and time and can be an insurmountable barrier to getting a license.

So, all that being said, what is happening locally to try and remove, or at the least, lessen the barriers to employment for Indigenous peoples? There are organizations like KKETS, Anishnabek Employment and Training Services, Seven Generations, the Indian Friendship Centres, and Indigenous liaisons and recruiters who are dedicated to helping Indigenous peoples succeed in education and reach their career goals. More and more we see colleges and universities with Indigenous Student Councils and Associations.  The supports are out there.  There is some work to be done around funding and having sufficient money to attend these types of Canadian institutions. To be frank, I think school should be free – there are examples of free schooling across the world, why as Canadians do we allow education to be inaccessible to a majority of Canada’s population? It baffles me.  I’m still paying my student debt and even worked when I went to both college and university. So for education, there are many things being done, including culturally appropriate and adult based learning programs.

And then there is Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan – Opening Doors for You, a project brought to the Thunder Bay District by the Local Employment Planning Council (http://www.nswpb.ca/lepc) and Northern Policy Institute (www.northernpolicy.ca), a project of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board (www.nswpb.ca).

Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan Project is a two part project that actually takes into consideration the aforementioned barriers. Firstly, it is a positive reinforcement program that provides employers encouragement and tips towards hiring a diverse workforce and encourages employers to make use of existing services in the community to support in hiring and retaining newcomers and Indigenous employees.  Secondly, it is a positive messaging social media campaign which highlights leading employers in diversity, success stories, organizations in employment support and many more resources for both the general public, as well as employers looking to diversify their workforce.

If you’ve found this blog, you’ve found www.openingdoors4u.ca, but if by chance you haven’t visited the site, please do. And if you have a success story or want to submit something for consideration by all means, please do that too!


Charmaine McCraw is a Labour Force Researcher at Northern Policy Institute. First published on Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan's Something to Think About, March 2017.

Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan - Opening Doors For You is an innovative new project led by the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, your Local Employment Planning Council (LEPC) in partnership with Northern Policy Institute. The project aims to help employers identify and access existing supports to hire individuals from these growing labour pools.

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