Aboriginals readied for workforce – by Liz Cowan (Northern Ontario Business – August 2012)

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As the fastest growing segment of Canada’s population, Aboriginals represent a great resource for filling any shortages in the workforce now and in the future.
“I sit in meetings and sometimes hear talk about how we need to access immigrants and I cringe,” said Nancy Beaulieu, Wabun Tribal Council’s employment and training co-ordinator. “We have such a great resource available here when it comes to the Aboriginal population, especially with the mining industry.”
With several memorandums of understanding and impact benefit agreements being signed between First Nations and mining companies, more opportunities are now available.

Some barriers do exist but they are being addressed. Employment and training programs offered by Wabun Tribal Council and others such as Mushkegowuk Council, which both have offices in Timmins, are trying to meet the employment needs of their people and of the employers. 
“A lot of the trades are requiring a minimum of Grade 12 and we are still trying to get them there,” she said. “There are pools of individuals who do have Grade 12 and some certificates to gain entry-level positions, and we are trying to move those into management positions or getting them into apprenticeships.”
Depending on the region, such as the First Nation communities along the coastal areas of James Bay, cultural differences can be a challenge when they come off the reserve.
“We have identified that as a barrier,” Beaulieu said, “so a lot of the training sessions we have offer that cultural sensitivity on both fronts. Not only are our clients getting educated on what the expectations are for them, the businesses are also getting cross-cultural training so they are aware of the culture and history of the First Nation.”
Another barrier is many Aboriginals living along the coast do not have a driver’s licence, making it difficult to access employment sites.
“In our area, it is difficult to access a lot of our training dollars to get these individuals licences,” she said. “If a tribal council is centrally located, it can offer mass training.”
For those who gain employment at a camp setting, support is offered to ensure the family can handle the separation and to identify whom family members can turn to for help. Budgeting skills are also taught since some jobs can pay as much as $30 to $40 an hour.
“This allows them to figure out what they are bringing in and what is going out and to plan for the future,” Beaulieu said. The education level of Aboriginals is slowly coming up and many communities are encouraging their youth to stay in school.
In partnership with the Far Northeast Training Board, a demographic profile was done to capture a good view of where the First Nation area was in terms of education and income.
“We have covered some ground,” she said. “We are seeing a higher level of education attainment and certificate attainment where we didn’t see that 10 years ago. It’s not a glaring statistic but for our purposes, there is an increase as opposed to a flatline or even a decline.”
Youth are also given opportunities to try a trade, since some don’t realize what types of trades and opportunities are available to them.
“We are scratching the surface of what needs to be done with our youth but if we can give then an idea of what is out there, that can allow them to realize something they never thought was possible,” Beaulieu said.
While initial programs offered basiclevel training to allow clients to obtain entry-level positions, new program funding agreements will allow these clients to be trained to the next level.
“We are hoping to recatch some of these employees who are working and who want to obtain a higher level,” she said. “If they have Miner 1 maybe we can get them to Miner 2 or Miner 3, or even to become a supervisor.”
The programs capture a lot of on-reserve clients but those living off the reserve are also eligible. “Each tribal council is responsible for its own members but if they aren’t sure where to go, we can always point them in the right direction,” Beaulieu said.
Contractors and sub-contractors who build a First Nation workforce can benefit when going to tender with a mining company.
“They may be shown preference if they identify a solid partnership with Aboriginals. In the end, we all win.”