This is the first in a three part series on Barriers to Aboriginal Employment. In this series, we will look at the barriers - some tangible, some not - that maintain the status quo of exorbitant rates of unemployment amongst Aboriginal people in Canada. We then take a look at how those barriers can be removed or at least mitigated, and we wrap up with examples of communities and industry forming partnerships.
There have been massive, comprehensive studies done on this issue for years yet sadly, the barriers identified decades ago are pretty much the same in 2013 - not a lot of traction on the ground in terms of change and improvement.
What is the root of the barriers to employment that so many Aboriginal people in Canada face? It can be pretty safely said that the seeds were sown at the time of contact. European settlers viewed Aboriginal people as inferior and savage, and Aboriginal people viewed settlers with distrust, anger and fear.
Move along the timeline to the enactment of assimilation laws and residential schools and we see the ensuing intergenerational fallout of those laws - crushing poverty, poor health, low esteem, broken families and lower than average education achievements. And then there’s the Indian Act and its paternalistic laws that further exacerbate the situation.
So, what are the most common barriers?
1. Literacy and education: high school and basic literacy skills are requirements for nearly all jobs. The graduation rate of Aboriginal youth in Canada is 24% of 15 to 24-year-olds, compared with 84% in the non-native population;
2. Cultural differences: employers and co-workers may not understand or respect the unique cultural differences of Aboriginal people which can create a worksite atmosphere of disrespect, resentment or distrust;
3. Racism/discrimination/stereotypes: this is one of the fundamental barriers to Aboriginal people getting a job and remaining in the job, and it is directly related to the attitudes passed down since European settlers arrived in North America. There are a number of myths and misconceptions about Aboriginal people and perceived special treatment that some non-Aboriginal people still believe are truths;
4. Self-esteem: poverty, broken families, racism, stereotypes, discrimination, few role models all contribute to low self esteem. It’s hard to present well in a job interview when one is struggling with low self-esteem.
5. Poverty and poor housing: fifty percent of First Nations children, living on-reserve, start each day in an overcrowded, inadequate home that likely is in need of repairs, has asbestos, mould, and may not have drinking water. Unhealthy living conditions affect a person’s mental and physical well being.
6. Lack of a driving license: a real stumbling block in remote communities; just getting to the nearest office to write the initial test can be challenging; taking driver’s training is similarly a challenge as there may not be easily accessed training providers or, for that matter, a vehicle on which to learn;
7. Transportation: few remote communities are serviced by public transit; vehicle insurance is expensive and out of reach for many in pre-employment situations; again, owning a vehicle or having access to a vehicle is frequently not a reality;
8. Child care:safe, affordable child care is a challenge for mainstream Canadians - it is even more of a challenge for parents in Aboriginal communities.
These are just some of the more obvious barriers that stand between Aboriginal people and their ability to attain meaningful, lasting careers. Next week we will offer some suggestions on what employers can do to assist Aboriginal people to overcome or work around the barriers.
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