Chapter 5. Recommendations

Ensuring that Indigenous People have equal opportunity to participate in the labour market is fundamental to promote inclusive growth in Canada. This requires robust active labour market, skills, and economic development programmes to foster local partnerships and provide culturally sensitive services. Indigenous communities should be given every opportunity to take leadership in managing and delivering policies and programmes. This chapter outlines key recommendations emerging from this OECD study on Indigenous People in Canada.


Recommendations emerging from this OECD study

This OECD study has identified a number of opportunities and challenges facing Indigenous People in Canada. To work towards reconciliation as well as meeting commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is clear that well designed labour market and skills policies have a fundamental role to play in addressing the barriers to employment faced by Indigenous People, while also respecting the principle of advancing self-determination.

The Indigenous population is a growing source of labour supply within Canada. There are both economic and social reasons to ensure that Indigenous People are given every opportunity to succeed within the labour market and broader Canadian economy. This report has shown that while there are gaps between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population, significant improvements and efforts are also being made at both the federal and local level.

The following recommendations and policy insights emerge from the data and in-depth case study analysis on Indigenous employment and skills policies in Canada.

Consider injecting additional flexibility into the management of Indigenous labour market and skills training programming

Indigenous labour market programming is principally delivered through the Indigenous Skills and Employment Strategy (ISETS) as well as the Skills and Partnerships Fund (SPF). The analysis of four case studies conducted as part of this study highlights a number of key strengths and innovations happening at the local level. In all case studies, it is clear that there are experienced staff that are committed to working in partnership with Indigenous communities to provide employment and skills training that leads to a good job. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development is a particularly strong example of a one-stop centre providing the full range of “cradle to grave” services from child care, employment counselling and placement, skills development, housing, as well as career coaching and mentoring.

Going forward, there are benefits to be achieved from examining how to inject additional flexibility into the management of Indigenous labour market programming. This could be achieved by exploring the potential for integrating funding across programmes as well as easing the reporting and accountability requirements on Indigenous agreement holders. Recently announced program changes, including establishment of 10 year agreements with the renewal of ASETs into ISETs will provide opportunities for service providers to undertake long-term strategic planning. It is important that policies work in partnership with Indigenous communities as opposed to administering a programme to a community. Additional flexibility for service delivery and labour market programming would likely provide incentives to work in partnership with employers and training institutions.

In the area of skills training, flexibility could be considered in terms of whether Indigenous service providers can be given more latitude to fund postsecondary education and training. Indigenous People often need more financial and social support to participate in this type of training and there seems to be uncertainty regarding whether this type of activity is eligible for funding. In some cases, rigidity within the vocational education and training system which is generally managed by provinces and territories in Canada can restrict the ability of Indigenous organizations to offer more specific and customised skills training programmes for Indigenous learners.

It is important to note that actions are already being taken in this area. For example, through the SPF, service delivery organisations implementing training to employment projects are required to establish partnerships with employers to achieve their objectives. Since the development of these partnerships can fluctuate based on industry priorities and/or economic factors, the government provided implementing organisations with flexibility to establish arrangements with new partners if the original employer withdraws from the project due to unforeseen circumstances.

Furthermore, the Federal Government’s recent Budget 2018 announced a number of changes to Indigenous labour market programming, including establishing ten year agreements. This is a welcome development. The ISET programme places a stronger focus on training for high quality and better paying jobs, which is a welcome development. Furthermore, the programme also aims to provide more flexibility to Indigenous agreement holder in the management of employment programmes, which will enable greater leadership at the local level in the delivery of services.

Continue work to improve alignment of federal and provincial Indigenous labour market programming

Indigenous labour market and skills programming at the local level could benefit from stronger coordination across federal departments as well as between federal and provincial levels of government in Canada. Other federal departments as well as provincial level ministries are involved in Indigenous programming (and urban programming). With the quick roll out of four new programming streams of the federal Urban Programming for Indigenous People in a short implementation window, there is a risk of programme and service delivery duplication. Collaborative work between federal, provincial, and territorial governments and Indigenous organizations to identify and maximize program complementarity will be key. It should also be noted that multiple programme streams may also be more effective to providing outreach to Indigenous People who often face multiple barriers to employment. There is an opportunity to further leverage the existing inter-governmental forums such as the FLMM and LMMCs to better engage Indigenous organisations and identify stronger linkages between federal, provincial, and indigenous labour market programming at the local level.

Some Indigenous service delivery organisations are operating on a funding model based on a mix of federal and provincial programmes each with their own accountability requirements. Going forward, there could be a benefit to explore how to combine these funding envelopes into one single programme envelope based on a streamlined outcomes-based delivery model which enable Indigenous communities to assume more leadership on implementation locally.

It will be critical that other labour market programmes (e.g. the Labour Market Development Agreements and the Workforce Development Agreement, the federal Youth Employment Strategy, and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada programming) be well aligned with Employment and Social Development Canada’s Indigenous labour market programmes to ensure complementarity.

It should be highlighted that Employment and Social Development Canada is undertaking action in this area. For example, as part of the renewal of Indigenous labour market programmes, provincial and territorial governments were engaged to explore better policy linkages and alignment. In the 2016 Call for Proposal for the SPF, service delivery organisations were required to demonstrate a direct link to existing federal agreement holders. Furthermore, federal department working groups have been established to explore better linkages between Employment and Social Development Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. The federal government is also exploring how to better leverage existing intergovernmental fora on labour market issues to ensure greater programme complementarity, and to increase collaboration of these forums with Indigenous People to better respond to Indigenous needs.

Leverage the role of cities in addressing the needs of urban Indigenous People

Cities can be policy spaces of opportunity to test new ideas and pilot new ways of partnering with Indigenous organisations to design and deliver culturally-appropriate programmes and services to support Indigenous People living in urban areas. As highlighted in this report, traditionally, Indigenous People have been the constitutional domain of the federal government due to a number of legal obligations. It is important that both federal and provincial policies relating to urban Indigenous populations are designed in partnerships with cities to ensure that urban zones are safe, rewarding, and productive environments for Indigenous People. Given the role that municipal governments in Canada often play in delivering social assistance services, there may be an opportunity to be explored that enables cities to actively manage labour market and skills programming. It would be important that any move to provide cities with more autonomy in this policy space are accompanied by appropriate resources for them to be effective.

The recently announced new Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples (UPIP) by the Canadian government is a welcome step to better target the urban indigenous population with an emphasis on projects that help Indigenous women transition out of shelters, support Indigenous People with addictions, as well as provide mentoring opportunities to Indigenous youth. Friendship Centres are helping many Indigenous People in urban centres across Canada access vital services. Following the examples highlighted in this report from Winnipeg and Thunder Bay, cities in Canada should seek opportunities to develop urban Indigenous strategies and specific Indigenous policy frameworks that aim to better link the range of Indigenous service providers and organisations and improve the labour market supports available to urban Indigenous People.

Improve the collection and use of Indigenous Labour Market Information (LMI)

Statistics Canada has observed a 19% increase in the Indigenous population between 2011 and 2016. Compared to the 4% growth rate of the non-Indigenous population during the same period, this enormous difference can both be accounted for by a higher fertility rate found within the Indigenous population compared to the non-Indigenous population and also the trend in more people declaring Indigenous status on the Census who have not previously done so. Current trends suggest this will continue in the future (Statistics Canada, 2018). These numbers are based on self-identification, which is different than Indian Status, which is determined under the federal Indian Act.

Variance in the overall number of Indigenous People is not the only issue related to data reliability. The difficulty in making conclusive findings regarding Indigenous outcomes is that data is often inconsistent and generalised. This is especially true regarding data at a local level in regards to Indigenous People.

Programme design and service delivery will be better informed by available, local, timely LMI. Findings from ESDC’s 2015 evaluation of Indigenous labour market programmes identified that the lack of accurate and up to date local LMI constrained the ability of Indigenous communities to adequately support their annual operational planning, and the evaluation recommended strengthening agreement holders’ access to timely LMI to support their service delivery. This issue was also raised by Indigenous partners during the engagement sessions of the Canadian government on the renewal of Indigenous labour market programming.

Improvements to Indigenous LMI could be greatly enhanced through collaborations with Indigenous groups at the local level. Indigenous groups could give insights as to how data collection could be strengthened to be more timely, reliable, consistent and relevant at a local level. In partnership with indigenous organisations and communities, ESDC is undertaking a number of initiatives to improve LMI for and about Indigenous People on and off-reserve:

  • Piloting an on-reserve LMI survey, and creating skills inventories for Indigenous communities to help link working-age community members with available jobs;

  • Improving sharing of LMI with Indigenous partners by sharing jobs data from the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the Job Bank, to ensure Indigenous communities have access to information to support their training planning and job placements, and

  • Working towards Indigenous LMI sharing processes with Provinces/Territories to maximise the use of internal Indigenous data collected through administrative databases.

To implement these local collaborations and improvements to Indigenous LMI collection, a federal Indigenous statistical institution could be established. This has precedence in Canada—historically, the First Nations Statistical Institute (FNSI) served this purpose on a federal level. In 2015, FNSI was defunded by the Canadian government and ceases to operate now. By reinstituting a statistical institute responsible for data related to Indigenous outcomes, data collection, monitoring and evaluation could be greatly improved. Furthermore, this institution could also benefit Indigenous governments though increased statistical capacity support, reducing administrative costs and increasing interests in local investments (First Nations Statistics Institute, 2004).

In addition, extra resources and supports could be provided to local indigenous organisations to collect data to be used for local planning purposes. Federal surveys could also be designed to generate more local data and estimates for federal policy making and comparative purposes. Currently, the Census provides the largest sample size but it is run only every five years, which limits access to timely, sufficiently disaggregated and sampled information.

Look for opportunities to enhance skills training for Indigenous People through targeted work experience programmes

Gaps in education and skills between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations leave Indigenous People underrepresented in higher education and much less likely to have acquired a degree or diploma. However, skills training for Indigenous People can improve unemployment rates, job acquisition in knowledge sectors and occupations, and job retention. Currently, federal labour market programmes provides skills training to unemployed Indigenous People and also offers networking opportunities with relevant employers.

Along with skills training programmes, apprenticeships can help in reducing employment rates gaps for Indigenous People. Indigenous People already have a strong and successful presence in the trades. Apprenticeships offer a chance for unemployed Indigenous People to gain educational certification and professional experience in the workplace. These programmes are beneficial in creating further connections between employers and prospective Indigenous employees. There is an opportunity to examine how to continue to expand the use of apprenticeship programmes to assist Indigenous People with job readiness and employers with higher skilled employees.

While federal programming provides helpful training support for unemployed Indigenous People, there could be a greater focus on providing employed Indigenous People with training and skills development to transition to higher-quality, better-paying jobs. Indigenous programming should continue developing flexibilities to support life-long learning opportunities. Through partnerships with employers, federal policies and programmes can provide support in the work environment for Indigenous workers to move up the career ladder. This would assist employers with staff retention and Indigenous employees to gain promotions to new positions through the acquisition of new skills. This means not only supplying technical training certification, but also leadership training to allow Indigenous People to be more represented in managerial positions. This connection to employers could further encourage the hiring of Indigenous People (Employment and Social Development Canada, 2017).

Expand access to higher education opportunities to support Indigenous students

While apprenticeships and VET programmes are generally effective in connecting unemployed Indigenous People to educational certificates and employment, they still do not address equity gaps within the skills system. This is particularly striking within disparities in higher education outcomes. Therefore, there are many benefits to be gained by increasing Indigenous participation and completion of higher education while continuing to address barriers to access and completion of high school.

As shown in this report, the percentage of Indigenous People who have attained a tertiary degree (bachelor’s and higher) in Canada is more than 15% lower than the non-Indigenous population (Statistics Canada, 2016). Furthermore, this study demonstrates that outcome gaps in education disadvantage Indigenous People when they enter the workforce; across Canada, the Indigenous population has an 8.4% lower employment rate than non-Indigenous Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2016). However, when considering the employment rate by levels of education, the employment rate gap between the two groups substantially diminishes with each increase in educational level until it is nearly eradicated at the level of tertiary degree attainment (Statistics Canada, 2015).

Currently, federal active labour market programming for Indigenous People addresses these gaps by funding up to two years of post-secondary education for Indigenous students. However, two years is not a sufficient amount of funding to allow Indigenous students to complete four year tertiary degrees if they have no other financial assistance. Federal employment and skills training for Indigenous People should therefore increase the maximum amount of tertiary funding to a ceiling of at least four years for Indigenous students.

Indigenous People are underrepresented in knowledge sectors and occupations. Increases in tertiary attainment allows for greater social and financial mobility for Indigenous People by widening their options of employment to include jobs requiring higher skills. This proposed change within the new ISET programme will help to boost the socio-economic status of participating Indigenous students.

Consider increasing the use of mentorship as a key tool for supporting Indigenous employment

Findings from case studies research have demonstrated that more support could be provided to Indigenous People in the workplace. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business 2016 survey indicates that employers have issues finding qualified employees and employee retention. Structural, financial, cultural and institutional barriers associated with Indigenous employment, education and skills show that interventions are needed to address these barriers. Along with life-long learning skills support, Indigenous employees can greatly benefit from mentorship within the workplace.

In terms of implementation, Indigenous mentorship is present to some degree in the Canadian workforce. Employee Resource Groups (ERG) might provide an interesting model in which more mentorship opportunities could be delivered. Traditionally, Employee Resource Groups provide a host of services including mentorship, community events, and personal and professional development consultations. ERGs could offer Indigenous employees a support system and reliable community in a professional setting. By providing reliable, trustworthy mentors and a circle of accountability, the holistic needs of Indigenous People can be addressed in a professional setting.

Outside of the ERG model, it is worth exploring how existing federal actively labour market and skills programmes can encourage more mentorship opportunities in the workplace. Recently, the federal government announced the creation of an Indigenous Mentorship Network Program to facilitate capacity exchange among Indigenous health researchers. This is an interesting model, which could be explored within other sectors of the Canadian economy.

Use social enterprises as a pathway to economic prosperity for Indigenous People

There is an opportunity to further leverage the use of social enterprises to offer new economic opportunities to Indigenous People in Canada. These entities can operate as private entities or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), for instance, to facilitate economic activity that contributes to socioeconomic needs at a local level. Social enterprises can be used an economic development mechanism to gainful employment for Indigenous People in knowledge occupations. Social enterprises managed by Indigenous entrepreneurs will be motivated by more than profits as they will also seek to contribute to their local community. Balancing both social and profitability goals is critical in building stronger and empowered indigenous communities.

Provisions within the Indian Act can deter Indigenous entrepreneurs from forming corporations or partnerships on reserves since they are still subjected to taxation. Partially as consequence, 60% of Indigenous enterprises are sole proprietorships. However, for Indigenous entrepreneurs that are not profit-driven, NGOs and social enterprises could provide an appropriate alternative in terms of legal structure. The increase of Indigenous-led NGOs could reduce the burden of financial liability for Indigenous sole proprietors while also answering socioeconomic issues at the local level through untaxed operations. NGOs can also offer further revenue diversification for Indigenous entrepreneurs who have difficulties obtaining bank loans or limited personal funds.

The Neeginan Centre of Winnipeg provides an interesting example of how Indigenous-led social enterprises can transform local communities by addressing barriers to success. Through the Neeginan Centre, a collaboration of Indigenous-led NGOs came together in one physical space to offer services, including but not limited to, Indigenous wellbeing, employment, childcare and education. These organisations recognised needs in their local communities and sought to answer them while providing further employment through their own operations.


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