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Why Aren’t Aboriginal Workers Filling the Labour Shortage Gap?

Why Aren’t Aboriginal Workers Filling the Labour Shortage Gap?

The Conference Board of Canada recently released a report Understanding the Value, Challenges, and Opportunities of Engaging Metis, Inuit and First Nations Workers which takes a look at the more prominent challenges that businesses encounter when engaging Aboriginal workers. The report is a result of a survey of “businesses, industry associations and Aboriginal employment organizations.” [1] The following is a brief overview of some aspects of the report.

As we all know, Canada is facing a real and urgent crisis in its labour force - there simply won’t be enough skilled workers to meet the country’s labour needs in the future. As some of us may also know, the Aboriginal population is the fastest growing, and youngest overall, segment of Canada’s population, yet continues to be under-employed. Why is this? There is no single, simple answer but the report identifies the primary issues and provides some valuable strategies.


Lack of Education
The lack of education is identified as a fundamental barrier to Aboriginal people entering the workforce, and to Aboriginal people already in the workforce who want to be considered for promotions. The 2006 Census found that of the 1,172,790 Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, a full 34% of those aged 25 - 64 did not graduate from high school, compared to 15% of non-Aboriginal people. Access to adequate education is a challenge for students in some remote reserves and communities. There is often a higher-than-normal turnover in teachers which is disruptive to students. Math and science courses are frequently only available online and that is not an ideal learning situation for many students. Beneath the surface, there is also the residual stain of the Residential School system that continues to adversely affect the outlook of parents regarding the education system in general.

Finding workers/finding jobs
Businesses reported that they didn’t know how to get in touch with unemployed Aboriginal people - one of the problems being the sheer number of agencies that exist to assist Aboriginal People in gaining access to the workforce! Correspondingly, there is sometimes a lack of awareness on the part of Aboriginal people as to what opportunities are out there for training, skills development and potential career paths.

Some industries may have a history of conflict with Aboriginal communities, and while they may be desperate for work, Aboriginal people will not be comfortable working in those industries.

Reluctance to leave community, culture and traditions
Not surprisingly, reluctance on the part of the Aboriginal workers to relocate away from their community is listed as one of the key challenges in attracting workers; this was a corresponding issue with worker retention. It also plays into absenteeism - Aboriginal workers leaving work to return to their communities to participate in traditional and cultural events was cited as a challenge for employers, especially if a large number of employees were from the same community. From an employer’s perspective, to have a percentage of the workforce depart en masse is disruptive to the company’s productivity which affects the bottom line. This is less of an issue for employers in regions with large Aboriginal populations as there is a greater understanding of the local Aboriginal cultures.

This last one leads to another issue in recruiting and retaining Aboriginal workers - differences in expectations. The newly minted Aboriginal worker may not have the same approach to workplace expectations as their employer - 28.2% of the interviewees reported this as an issue in terms of retention of Aboriginal employees. Some communities do not have a history with the wage economy so there are no family or community members who lead by example.

Racism and Negative Stereotypes
Racism and negative stereotypes are alive and well in the workplace and are an impediment to Aboriginal workers’ successful entry into the labour force.

The report concludes with some very good points regarding the economic benefits of making the effort to recruit and retain Aboriginal workers.


Addressing the fundamental issues of education and skills development is the first critical step. All Canadians should have access to quality education provided by qualified teachers right, regardless of where they live. “To improve on-reserve schools and increase First Nations graduation rates, the government announced that it would pass a First Nations Education Act in September 2014 as well as pledge $275 million for on-reserve schools.” [2]

Access to skills development training and raising awareness of career preparation programs, career paths and employment opportunities.

“Better coordination among Aboriginal organizations to simplify point of contact for employers would make it easier for employers to find and engage potential Aboriginal workers” (emphasis added)

Raising Cultural Awareness
“Cultural awareness programs increase understanding and communication between non-Aboriginal workers and Aboriginal workers and help to create more inclusive work environments” [3] Raising cultural awareness on the job site would mitigate many of the challenges that face employers in their efforts to recruit and retain Aboriginal workers.

There are many options available for companies to provide cultural awareness for their employees. At Indigenous Corporate Training Inc., we offer onsite workshops that do just that - raise cultural awareness.

[1]Understanding the Value, Challenges, and Opportunities of Engaging Metis, Inuit and First Nations Workers, preface
[2] Ibid, page 34
[3] Ibid, page 35

Featured photo: Unsplash

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