Indigenous groups look for more funding, flexibility in revamped jobs strategy
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 19, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick)
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017 4:45PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 11, 2017 10:32PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Indigenous leaders are asking the federal government to overhaul an employment program to help a young and growing population train for a first job and move up the corporate ladder.
The key messages from consultations on a new Aboriginal skills training strategy provided to Labour Minister Patty Hajdu earlier this year focus on creating separate strategies for First Nations, Metis and Inuit, rather than a pan-Indigenous approach.
Federal officials have told Hajdu that consultations with Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders highlighted the need for more money for groups delivering training programs and a focus on the fast-growing cohort of Indigenous youth.
The aim of the recommendations is to shift the focus of the employment efforts to building employment skills, including for those already in the workforce, rather than measuring success by whether someone in the program lands a job.
The Canadian Press has obtained a copy of the briefing note under the Access to Information Act along with an early draft of the consultation report, a final version of which was made public in early August.
Both versions of the report highlight how covering post-secondary tuition could increase demand and costs for the program and they stress the need to properly fund Indigenous child care.
The Liberals now have a few months to create a successor to Aboriginal skills and employment training strategy (ASETS) and have it in place by April 2018 to help the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian workforce.
"Ensuring they can access the education and skills training they need to succeed isn't just the right thing to do -- it's critical to our long-term economic growth," said Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Hajdu.
"We have heard clearly the need for an approach that takes into account the unique needs of all Canada's Indigenous communities."
A Canadian Press review of income data from the 2016 census found that four out of every five Aboriginal reserves have median incomes that fall below the poverty line, or low-income measure, which Statistics Canada considers to be $22,133 for one person.
Women fared statistically worse then men, but not by much, pointing to a need to ensure support in essential skills training or entrepreneurship among Indigenous women in a revamped strategy, said Daniel Peters, who oversees the ASETS program at the Native Women's Association of Canada. He, too, hopes for more money to support essential skills training.
"There is still incredible amounts of support and programming needed for women who have had challenges in their lives to take that first step," Peters said.
The figures are not a full picture of Indigenous Peoples in Canada as many reserves didn't have any income statistics. Statistics Canada plans to provide more robust census data at the end of the month as part of its ongoing effort to paint a five-year portrait of the evolving Canadian population.
The government expects that over the next decade, about 400,000 young Aboriginals will join the workforce, adding to the almost 900,000 already of working age. Indigenous leaders believe that youthful wave of workers could alleviate an employment crunch the country will face as retirements mount in the coming years.
A study last year from the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board estimated Indigenous Peoples could add $27.7 billion annually to Canada's economy if they fully participated in the labour force, but that would require the government to boost investments in education, infrastructure and other services.
Providing employment to some 130,000 Indigenous workers to close the labour gap will require a new strategy to look for connections in corporate Canada, said interim board chair Dawn Madahbee Leach. She pointed to Australian companies that create Indigenous partnerships as part of reconciliation plans that could be replicated in Canada.
"Building relationships is critical to whole process," Madahbee Leach said.
"The response from corporate Canada is, 'I really don't know the communities,' or 'I don't know who to talk to.' So we have to have some way to make that connection. I think there's a role that government can play ... in that regard."