First Nation worker retention strategies are a topic of growing interest and discussion as Canada faces the challenge of insufficient numbers of skilled workers to fill its labour needs. As First Nation people are the fastest-growing and youngest segment they are increasingly considered part of the solution.
Labour market participation by First Nation people has always lagged behind that of the non-First Nation population but that reality has never garnered the interest level it currently does. Studies and strategies abound as governments and corporate Canada scramble to develop a strong First Nation workforce.
It should be a win:win situation - the country is crying out for workers and First Nation people are under-employed and looking for employment. But, despite the win:win scenario there remain significant barriers to employment and companies struggle with worker retention.
Developing a corporate strategy on retention of First Nation employees is well worth the effort - a revolving door of employees is expensive and disruptive to the other workers. After investing time and money in training workers, the last thing a company wants is for them to leave and take their newly acquired skills with them……..and potentially to a competitor.
Successful First Nation worker retention strategies could include:
#1: Recognition of cultural interests. A prime example is that in the case of a death in the community, a worker may be expected to return to the community to honour the deceased. Another is traditional pursuits such as hunting and fishing - these are time honoured and sometimes necessary(the family and or community relies on this person) activities, for some First Nation workers, will could take precedence over a job.
#2: Bereavement policies that are cognizant of First Nation culture. In most organizations, only the death of an immediate family member warrants bereavement leave - in many First Nation communities the concept of family can be much larger than mainstream culture. For example, where I come from first cousins are still brothers and sisters. Bereavement policies should be clarified with incoming employees to create a common understanding.
#3: Recognition that lack of high school diploma does not render a person unable to work. “Hire character; Train skill”. A stable employment situation often inspires workers to take high school completion courses online or in evening courses. Some companies that maintain a stable First Nation workforce offer incentives to workers to complete their grade 12.
A policy that matches new employees with an culturally aware co-worker. Having a “go to” person on site to answer questions and help them establish relationships within the workforce will increase their sense of belonging. First Nation workers may be more comfortable discussing issues with this person than they would with authority figures.
#4: Recognition that new-to-employment First Nations may need cultural support. Being away from their community for extended periods of time can be very stressful. Having First Nation councilors, or Elders from the workers’ community, on site or visit the site provides a safety net as the worker adjusts to his or her new environment.
#5: Recognition that previous work experience may have been more lenient. Remote First Nation communities have few employment options, so a worker’s previous work experience may have been through the band office or from a member of the community. This work experience may not have required some of the more typical expectations placed on workers in a more corporate setting. Make sure your expectations are clear and explain why.
#6: Ensure entire workforce has had cultural awareness training. A workforce that maintains an appropriate level of cultural awareness will ensure non-First Nation workers understand and support cultural values and diversity.
#7: An exit interview. If a company’s retention efforts fall short and First Nation employees decide to leave, try to sit down and have an informal an exit interview or conversation to find out why the employee is leaving.
Of course some of these suggestions are just that, suggestions. You’ll have to take into account your specific work environment and objectives when deciding which of these First Nation worker retention strategies is for you.
We would also love to hear some of your retention suggestions. Leave them in the comments section below to keep the conversation going.
Bob Joseph is the President of Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., is a certified Master Trainer and provides on-site and public training to clients on the subject of working with Aboriginal Peoples.
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