Workforce development in First Nation communities

How an integrated approach to education can lead to better outcomes for indigenous job seekers

The National Aboriginal Economic Development Board estimates that closing education and training gaps would increase earnings in the Indigenous workforce by as much as $8.5 billion annually. Given Canada’s national labour shortage, workforce development programs are starting to explore how to better connect Indigenous job seekers to industries such as construction, hospitality and retail, that are lacking qualified workers.

The critical challenge to reaching this goal is low education levels among many First Nations job seekers. While many do not have a high school diploma, they do have valuable workplace experience and initiatives are taking place across the country that are challenging mainstream education models and how qualifications of adult learners are recognized.

In 2015, the Post Secondary Education, Training and Labour department of the Government of New Brunswick partnered with the Oromocto First Nation to get a group of job seekers on track to become registered apprentices. The group was supported to register in the trade and matched with qualified mentors to work on a construction project in their community. This initiative created practical on-the-job skills development along with an opportunity for sustained employment and a sense of pride for contributing to the betterment of the community.

This model of workplace learning, combined with skill-specific academic support is gaining in popularity as it gets individuals into employment and provides employers with new sources of job-ready skilled workers.

Workforce development in the tourism sector

CEDEC is currently working with the community of Kebaowek on such a project in north-western Quebec. Home to approximately 800 Algonquin people, the Eagle Village First Nation is positioned close to the new Opémican National Park which is expected to open in the summer of 2018.

Community members from Kebaowek working together to create an integrated training program for local jobseekers.

Community leaders recognised the economic potential created by the opening of this park and the opportunities for job seekers. CEDEC is supporting the community to create an integrated training program that will help job seekers gain the relevant skills and competencies to be hired at the park. A number of partners are supporting this work including the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec (SEPAQ), the First Nations Human Resources Development Commission of Quebec (FNHRDCQ), the First Nations School Council (FNSC) and Tourism Autochtone Quebec (TAQ).

Reconciliation won’t happen overnight. There is a lot of work ahead of us before we reach the anticipated $27.7 billion increase in Canada’s economy, but these projects are an important step in ensuring equitable access to employment and training for Canada’s Indigenous populations.

For more information on this project, contact Kelly Boutilier, Adult Learning Specialist, at CEDEC.

"If given the same access to economic opportunities available to other Canadians, the Indigenous population would be equally incentivized to participate in the labour force."

Reconciliation: Growing Canada’s Economy by $27.7 billion