June 19, 2017 - Thunder Bay is a racist community. We hear this all the time. Plus, when idiots throw car parts at pedestrians it is pretty difficult to argue that there are not racists among us. Yet, in my four years in this city, I have been fortunate to meet many people who run welcoming, inclusive organizations. Organizations that work hard to meet the diverse needs of indigenous and immigrant customers and job seekers.
There is the owner of a rental company who regularly hires low skilled Indigenous candidates for entry level positions and works with them to build skills for the next job. By “works with them”, I mean goes above and beyond what many employers might otherwise do. Picking them up and driving them home from work. Helping them open bank accounts. Encouraging one particular employee, skilled with their hands and eager to learn, to get their small engine certificate. Keeping them employed, and supported, while they did it.
There are the many “go to” employers identified to me by the people who help people find jobs in our community. Employers who are known to understand the challenges of hiring newcomers to the city. Whether those are newcomers from the other side of the world or from a rural or remote community just hours away. Employers who understand the risk and effort involved, are known for being willing to accept them, and are experienced at overcoming them.
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to find those employers. They are not the ones getting the headlines. It wasn’t easy for me, and I am a trained researcher with years of experience and a strong network of friends and associates to draw on. Imagine the challenges of someone new to our city, basically alone, and trying at the same time to figure out living arrangements, food, transportation, health care or education.
Which is why my colleagues at Northern Policy Institute and I were so excited to work with the North Superior Workforce Planning Board, your Local Employment Planning Council, in developing a program to recognize and celebrate these employers. Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan, Opening Doors For You, is a new program to recognize and promote employers who make the effort to become welcoming workplaces. Those who learn about other cultures, hire newcomers, create an environment in their workplaces that blends cultural differences into an improved work environment.
Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan, BI for short, has a website and social media presence that identifies and promotes companies who have made the effort to be welcoming workplaces. It helps those who want to become diverse workplaces connect with the existing resources they need to do so. It also helps those who wish to work for employers like that, or direct their purchases in support of welcoming and inclusive companies, to find those companies. Over 50 companies have already signed up for the program and will soon be identifiable from street level as the first BI decals are distributed across our community.
These companies can take pride in the efforts they have made to respond to the racism in our community. Not just with strong words of condemnation, but with positive actions to include everyone, regardless of their point of origin. We know that we face serious demographic challenges in the years ahead. We also know that many Indigenous peoples and newcomers in our community face higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of income. Closing those gaps is a win for everyone.
For businesses who have already made this effort, I encourage you to step up and be recognized. Being openly identified is as much a public service as having made the effort to be welcoming in the first instance. Only by telling, and retelling the good stories, and by encouraging others to follow your example, can we ever hope to overcome the bad.
For those of you looking for work, or looking to support good works, I encourage you to visit www.openingdoors4u.ca. Plus, keep an eye out for those open door decals around town. The ones telling you that business truly is Baakaakonaanan Ishkwaandemonan.
Charles Cirtwill is President and CEO of Northern Policy Institute, an independent social and economic think tank based here in Northern Ontario. First published in The Chronicle Journal, June 2017.
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