Automation and the Future of Indigenous Employment

September 20, 2018 | Workforce Development
Source - Automobile automation

One Way to Prepare for Changes to Come.

In this age of innovation, there is a lot of uncertainty for Canada’s labour force.

According to a report released by The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, more than 40 per cent of the Canadian workforce is at high- risk of being replaced by technology and computers in the next two decades.

This, however, is not the first time Canada has experienced a shift in industry. In the early 2000s manufacturing jobs, once the life blood of economies such as Ontario, began to disappear.

Out of work and out of options

In Hawkesbury, millwrights suddenly found themselves out of work when their employer’s main factory closed down. With years of practical experience but no credentials, many of these displaced workers applied for other factory positions but were turned away. These workers were minority French speakers, most did not have a high school diploma and many struggled with basic literacy skills. Losing their job was devastating, but more problematic still, was their reintegration into the workforce.

So, why not just go back to school? The Hawkesbury millworkers found that it isn’t so simple. In order to be eligible for programs at their local vocational training centres, they needed their high school diploma. In order to enroll at the adult education centre to complete their high school education, they would have to upgrade their literacy skills.

Overnight, these millwrights went from being wage earners to involuntary students with more than four years of studying ahead of them before they could hope to re-enter the workforce. For most of them, giving up a salary for that long was not an option.

More in common than you think

What does a group of Franco-Ontarian millwrights and Indigenous people have in common?

According to Statistics Canada, in 2011, 31% of First Nations people (47% of those living on a reserve and 21% for the off-reserve population) aged 25 to 64 did not have a certificate, diploma or degree. Indigenous people are more likely than non-Indigenous people to work in trades and related industries, including transportation and as equipment operators, (20.1% vs. 14.8%)”.

If these statistics don’t make the link clear enough, the Brookfield Institute states that employees most likely to be impacted by automation in the next 10-20 years are those who typically possess a lower level of education and have lower wage levels than the rest of the Canadian labour force. Specifically, workers in jobs related to retail, transport truck driving, food service and administrative assistants will find themselves at a 70% or higher probability of being affected. This means that many Indigenous people will face a similar fate as the Franco-Ontarian millwrights in just a short matter of time.

There is a lot of speculation around how we will deal with these changes on the horizon, and a lot of fear. This is normal since no one is quite sure what to expect. But there are solutions.

Collaborative solutions that could be applied in Quebec

The community of Hawkesbury recognised that it had to get creative if it was going to survive the departure of its factory, so it rallied together, and with the help of Réseau pour le développement de l’alphabétisme et des compétences (RESDAC), worked to create a model of integrated education.  The goal was to foster the swift reintegration of the former millwrights into the local labour market by helping them acquire and develop the technical, specialized and basic skills they needed. Community partners came together with local employers to examine what skills were in demand, the skills the millwrights had, and how they could design training to address any gaps.

In Quebec we have a brilliant opportunity; with 10 percent of Canada’s Indigenous population, we have a number of workers who we know will experience job displacement in certain industries and we also have an industry that is desperate for staff.

Turning loss into opportunity

As changes happen in the economy, sometimes it can be easier to focus on the jobs that will be lost and neglect the opportunities that will arise. For example, tourism is expected to have significant growth in the coming years and is anticipating a labour shortage. The Canadian Tourism Research Institute report, Bottom Line: Labour Challenges Threaten Tourism’s Growth, outlines how 240,000 potential tourism jobs could go unfilled between 2010 to 2035.

Changing demographics (18-25-year olds represent a significant portion of the tourism workforce)4 and Canada’s declining population growth are creating a workforce gap in some areas of Quebec that are struggling to fill positions in busy tourist destinations.

In Quebec we have a brilliant opportunity; with 10 percent of Canada’s Indigenous population, we have a number of workers who we know will experience job displacement in certain industries and we also have an industry that is desperate for staff.

CEDEC, with support from the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills, is conducting a pilot of the integrated education model in two Indigenous communities, one in North-Western Quebec, the other in the Gaspésie. The first step is the development of an integrated curriculum with partners including local community economic development groups, education experts and tourism business owners. This diverse group of people is committed to improving employment outcomes for their citizens and to showcasing the natural beauty of their community.

Developing this type of training is a complex task that requires a solid understanding of local economic opportunities, the ability to identify and adapt training for the best fit, and on-going communication with all stakeholders. In Quebec, there is also the added level of complexity of operating in both official languages.

This model will be tested in the Quebec context to see if it will adequately remove barriers to education and employment that many displaced workers face. However, Indigenous communities or otherwise, changes are coming to Canada’s labour market and we need to work together to find collective solutions that work for everyone.