Chapter 2. Improving local skills training for Indigenous People in Canada

In Canada, the overall educational attainment of Indigenous People falls behind the non-Indigenous population. Skills are a key route out of poverty and provide a solid foundation for Indigenous People to participate in the labour market. This chapter looks at key barriers to educational attainment of Indigenous Canadians as well as recent skills programmes that have been implemented at the federal and local level.


Understanding the skills outcomes of Indigenous People

In the TRC’s Calls to Action, education was identified as a key issue and significant barrier to the labour market success of Indigenous People. The TRC pointed out the need to provide equal education funding for Indigenous children; protect Indigenous languages, culture and history by integrating these important topics in curriculum; including Indigenous parents and community in decisions regarding their children’s education, honouring Treaty relationships and developing more Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) programmes for Indigenous children (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015).

Blair Stonechild (2006), a professor and Cree-Saulteaux member of the Muscowpetung First Nation, explains that elders referred to education as ‘new buffalo. In an interview with the University of Regina (June, 2010), he elaborates:

“When you look at traditional culture, the buffalo probably provided 95% of all the things that they needed. With the buffalo gone, the question became what replaces it? When you take a look at the struggle in the treaties, the way they were negotiated and the foresight of the negotiators, education was the thing that would guarantee the ability of First Nations people to survive in this new world. So that is basically the concept, that the new buffalo is access to education – not just elementary and secondary, but post-secondary as well” (Stonechild, 2016).

Building the educational and skills levels of the Indigenous population will require concerted efforts to mentor Indigenous youth about the value of participating in the education system and to support educational institutes in providing and maintaining quality and culturally sensitive education to Indigenous students, from primary to post-secondary levels. Such supports should focus on ensuring student retention and nurturing Indigenous student in their development in socially and psychologically safe settings.

Education and skills outcomes

The OECD report, Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students documents differences in participation rates, attendance rates, expulsion rates and graduation rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in Canada; Queensland, Australia; and New Zealand. The report found that enrolment rates for four year-olds Indigenous students were less than 20% in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and the Yukon in 2015. In the same year, the largest gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous enrolment in Canada were at the ages five and six year-olds, with still less than 80% of Indigenous children enrolled in school. Otherwise, comparing Indigenous enrolment in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Yukon between 2010 and 2015, the enrolment rates were consistent around 80% with marginal improvements for five, six and seven year-olds (OECD, 2017a).

In regards to differences in the number of days absent per year in 2015, a consistent gap of at least ten days was reported between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from the ages 13-18 within Nova Scotia and Yukon. However, in regards the number of days absent for male and female Indigenous students, there appeared to be very little difference in their outcomes in the year 2015. In 2015, the number of days Indigenous students are absent in Queensland and New Zealand is about ten days or less at each age (from age eight) compared to Indigenous students in Nova Scotia and Yukon (OECD, 2017a).

Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students did report an improvement in Indigenous graduation rates for the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Manitoba between 2010 (about 40%) and 2015 (about 53%) of more than 10%. However, Alberta and Manitoba’s performances still were about 15% less than the graduation rates of Indigenous students in Queensland and New Zealand. Differences in graduation rates were most striking between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups which graduated Indigenous males (52%) and females (54%) at least 30% less than non-Indigenous males (82%) and females (87%) (OECD, 2017a).

While 60% of Indigenous People did not have a post-secondary certificate according to the 2016 Census, the Indigenous post-secondary certificate holders primarily studied trades, services, natural resources and conservation (14.4%); business and administration (6.5%) and health care (5.8%)(Statistics Canada, 2016a).

In comparison, about 44% of non-Indigenous People did not obtain post-secondary certificates. Of the ones who did acquire the certification, the non-Indigenous students were represented more than twice Indigenous students within arts and humanities (5.1%); engineering and engineering technology (4.9%); science and science technology (3%); and mathematics, computer and information science (2.3%) (Statistics Canada, 2016a). Furthermore, Figure 5.2 contrasts employment rates of Indigenous People with those of non-Indigenous People by major field of study. This figure demonstrates that in addition to an underrepresentation in major fields of study that lead to work in knowledge sectors, Indigenous People more often than not have lower employment rates in these majors. Differences in employment rates between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous graduates can be seen in majors such as agriculture, natural resources and conservation (8% gap); mathematics, computer and information sciences (6.1% gap); and architecture, engineering, and related technologies (4.8% gap). Only within the major of education are the employment rate outcomes most strikingly inversed with Indigenous People having an 11% higher employment rate than non-Indigenous People (Statistics Canada, 2016b).

Figure 2.1. Highest level of education attained, Indigenous status, %, 2016

Source: Statistics Canada (2016), 2016 Census, Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016262.


Figure 2.2. Employment rate by major field of study, Indigenous status, %, ages 15 years or older, 2016

Note: Excludes census data for one or more incompletely enumerated Indian reserves or Indian settlements.

Source : Statistics Canada (2016), 2016 Census, Catalogue no. 98-400-X2016267.


At the level of cities, differences in tertiary educational attainment are quite visible as well. Percentage gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups are the largest in Vancouver (18.9%) and Calgary (18.4%). However, Québec City has the lowest gap in outcomes with a difference of 7.7% (Statistics Canada, 2016c). Comparing Vocational Education and Training (VET), the outcome gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups are far lower. In Thunder Bay, outcomes between the two groups are inversed. However, this might be explained due to industries in the region relying more on skills acquired through VET programmes (Statistics Canada, 2016c).

Figure 2.3. Percentage of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults (15 years and older) having completed tertiary education (Bachelor's and above), most-populated Canadian metropolitan areas, 2016

Note: Thunder Bay refers to the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Greater Sudbury – Thunder Bay. Tri-Cities stands for Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo CMA.

Source: Statistics Canada (2016), 2016 Census of Population. Canada and census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample data, data extracted by Employment and Skills Development Canada, received 11 April 2018.


Figure 2.4. Percentage of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults (15 years and older) who participated in VET, most-populated Canadian metropolitan areas, 2016

Note: Thunder Bay refers to the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Greater Sudbury – Thunder Bay. Tri-Cities stands for Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo CMA.

Source: Statistics Canada, 2016 Census of Population. Canada and census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations, 2016 Census – 25% Sample data, data extracted by Employment and Skills Development Canada, received 11 April 2018.


Educational performance

In their analysis of Indigenous People’s test scores for the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), the Conference Board of Canada recognises that gaps in test performance need to be addressed (The Conference Board of Canada - Northern and Aboriginal Policy, 2017). Additionally, Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students reports a 20% gap in lower middle-high and high level of proficiency in mathematics between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in lower and upper secondary education in 2015 for the provinces of Alberta and Nova Scotia (OECD, 2017a).

Figure 2.5. Average adult (15-64) literacy and numeracy scores, Indigenous and Non-Indigenous identity populations, %, 2012

Note: Indigenous Peoples surveyed in PIAAC are composed of First Nations people living off reserve (48%), Métis (44%), and Inuit (5%).

Source: Statistics Canada, International Survey of Adults, Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, 2012.


What are the barriers inhibiting Indigenous People from acquiring higher skills outcomes?

In the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (APS), Statistics Canada asked respondents to identify which barrier(s) prevented them from pursuing further education or training. In all Indigenous groups, the students who did not complete high school reported significantly higher barriers than those who completed their high school degree. The highest differences between those who do not complete high school and graduates’ perceptions of barriers occur in the Métis population (Statistics Canada, 2015).

For leavers within each Indigenous group, the barriers with the highest percent of responses were courses not matching needs, the cost, personal and family responsibilities and a lack of personal priority. While each category needs to be addressed, the highest barriers for those who did not complete high school should be prioritized (Statistics Canada, 2015).

Access to Early Childhood Education and Care

The OECD’s Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care articulates how children’s participation in ECEC can heavily impact the lives of individuals through their life. Starting Strong 2017 cites data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA test results indicate that ECEC is the strongest predictor for high (or low) PISA test results than any other indicator. Moreover, the OECD specifies that at least two years of participation in ECEC are needed for the experience to have an impact on 15-year-olds PISA test performance (OECD, 2017d).

In Canada, Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students reports that less than 90% of Indigenous students participate in ECEC (however, this number is an estimate due to differences in Indigenous self-identification processes within the census and within schools).

Housing conditions

The conditions children live in at home greatly influence their performance at school. Inadequate and substandard housing conditions can have a negative impact on their performance and wellbeing. In regards to housing, Statistics Canada reports that 18.3% of Indigenous People were living in crowded dwellings in 2016 (Statistics Canada, 2017). In contrast, only 8.5% of non-Indigenous People live in crowded dwellings during the same period (Statistics Canada, 2017). In addition, 19.4% of Indigenous People’s homes require major repairs (Statistics Canada, 2017).


The Conference Board of Canada highlights that when viewing the test results and overall performances of Indigenous students in educational systems, one should consider that 15% of Indigenous People reported an Indigenous language as their mother tongue in the 2011 NHS (The Conference Board of Canada - Northern and Aboriginal Policy, 2017). The 2016 Census showed similar results, with 15.6% of Indigenous People speaking an Indigenous language (Statistics Canada, 2017).

Therefore, while the scores do reflect the need to further improve attainment and quality of education for Indigenous People, the French and English versions of the PIAAC test may not be the best testing mechanism for students who do not have those languages as their native language. Furthermore, Indigenous students can also encounter language barriers regarding the language of instruction at schools and educational materials such as textbooks.

Learning difficulties

Data from Nova Scotia and Yukon within Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students indicates that there are far more Indigenous students assessed with learning difficulties in those regions. 15% of Indigenous children at age nine are accessed with learning difficulties compared to less than 10% of non-Indigenous students. The number of Indigenous students accessed with learning difficulties climaxes at age 14, at just less than 25% of students. In comparison, just above 10% of non-Indigenous children are assessed with learning difficulties at the same age (OECD, 2017a). More policy research needs to be undertaken to understand these critical issues in order to develop policies and strategies to resolve them.

What policies and programmes have been implemented to address the skills outcomes of Indigenous People in Canada?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) underlines the right for Indigenous families and communities to be active participants in their children’s education. In particular, Articles 14 and 21 explicitly define the educational rights of Indigenous People. These articles specify Indigenous People’s rights to further their own languages, cultures, traditions and knowledge through the management of their own educational systems and institutions. They also have the right to the improvement of these institutions and the right to participate in these institutions without discrimination (United Nations, 2008).

In May 2016, Canada became a full supporter of UNDRIP. While gaps in educational and skills attainment persist for Indigenous People, several policies and programmes have been introduced or are in place to build the skills of Indigenous People work towards the actualisation of rights for Indigenous People.

Skills and Partnership Fund

The Skills and Partnership Fund (SPF) is a proposal-based programme that encourages stakeholders, such as training institutions, community organisations, local business and industry, to partner with Indigenous organisations to support skills development, job training and employment supports for Indigenous People. These partnerships are intended to address a broad range of Indigenous socio-economic issues, while also better meeting local labour market demand.

SPF was launched in 2010, with an investment of 210 million CAD over five years to support service delivery; skills development, including essential skills training; and training-to-employment for jobs identified by partner employers. In 2015, the federal government announced the renewal of the Skills and Partnership Fund’s (SPF) with annual funding of CAD 50 million until March 31, 2021. The fourth and most recent Call for Proposals was launched on 24 May 2016 and closed on 29 July 2016 with 230 proposals received and a total funding request of CAD 935.5 million. The call sought proposals from all sectors and focused on improving employment outcomes under two funding streams:

  • Training-to-Employment: encourage an increased number of employed clients in skilled, long-term jobs and the level of partnership funding, and

  • Innovation: enhance the employability of Indigenous People by addressing a broader range of socio-economic challenges within Indigenous communities.

SPF is inherently partnership-based and requires the continuous engagement of Indigenous partners, with the involvement of provincial/territorial governments and private sector stakeholders where relevant. The SPF is demand-driven and supports government priorities through strategic partnerships by funding projects contributing to the skills development and training of Indigenous workers for long-term, meaningful employment in high-skilled and in-demand fields.

The SPF encourages Indigenous organisations to form partnerships with governments, businesses, and community organisations to improve skills training and create jobs and opportunities for Indigenous People. Strategic partnerships are a mandatory element of this application-based programme with SPF projects leveraging ESDC funding with partner contributions. Designed to complement the ISET programme, the SPF programme promotes innovation and co-operation, tests new approaches to the delivery of employment services, and addresses gaps in service delivery to improve employment outcomes for Indigenous People. The programme fosters more integrated, harmonized training-to-employment models and acts as a catalyst for the forming and testing of innovative new partnerships in Indigenous labour market development. This leads to improved programme effectiveness, efficiency, and overall reach of the ISET network.

Since 2012, over 30 000 Indigenous People have participated in the SPF programme, of which over 12 700 individuals have become employed and over 1 600 have returned to school. The SPF programme has also leveraged approximately CAD 250 million from 2010 to 2017 in financial and in-kind support from over 400 partners in the private sector and other organizations.

Income assistance for youth

The Government of Canada provides case management services for youth, ages 18 to 24 years old, living on-reserve and in the Yukon who are recipients of Income Assistance. The purpose of these Income Assistance Pre-employment Supports is to improve basic life skills, including numeracy and literacy, with the view of improving access to education and employment specific training. Canada’s 2017 Federal Budget provided CAD 39 million to these activities in 2017-2018. The Income Assistance Pre-employment Supports are implemented in collaboration with 22 service providers, bands and tribal councils that serve a total of 110 First Nations communities.

Apprenticeship programmes

Apprenticeships have been identified as an effective mechanism for smoothing the transition for young people between school and the world of work. While apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities have demonstrable benefits for young people and employers, many countries face a number of barriers to broadening their availability. Apprenticeship programmes, which combine workplace learning with classroom instruction, have been demonstrated to be a useful training arrangement, which are well linked to labour market opportunities (OECD, 2017b). There are many programmes across Canada designed to introduce Indigenous People to apprenticeship opportunities. Looking at educational outcomes (previous Figure 5.1), Indigenous People are already over-represented within vocational education and training relative to the non-Indigenous People.

A previous OECD report (OECD Reviews on Local Job Creation: Employment and Skills Strategies in Canada) provides an overview of Canada’s apprenticeship system. (OECD, 2014) In sum, the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum (CAF) notes the training combines alternating periods of on-the-job (80-90%) and technical training (10-20%). After completing both the classroom and the on-the-job training, apprentices can receive a Certificate of Apprenticeship (for non-restricted trades) or a Certificate of Qualification (for restricted trades). Depending on the trade, it takes about two to five years as an apprentice to become a certified journeyperson. Each province and territory has its own training and certification policies and its own list of designated apprenticeship programmes.

The federal government supports apprenticeship certifications through a Red Seal Programme, which promotes a set of common standards that allow the recognition of certifications across provincial jurisdictions. While professional certificates or licenses are recognised by all provincial jurisdictions under the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT), the Red Seal provides the assurance that workers are qualified according to common standards of knowledge and competency as defined by industry.

Furthermore, as part of the federal government’s Budget 2018, the federal government announced the Pre-Apprenticeship Program which will provide $46 million over five years, starting with $6 million in 2018–19, and $10 million per year thereafter, for the Program. The new programme will focus on supporting those that are underrepresented and disadvantaged in the trades, such as women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, newcomers and people with disabilities

The Canadian Council of Directors of Apprenticeship (CCDA) is responsible for the management of the Red Seal Programme. The CCDA works with industry to facilitate the development of a skilled labour force, and labour mobility across Canada. One of the best solutions to support the interests of both employers and prospective Indigenous employees has been through the use of apprenticeship programmes. As apprentices gain new skills through applied learning, employers use the experience to invest organisational knowledge in apprentices and determine if they are a good fit for further employment.

Previous OECD work has highlighted examples of Indigenous Communities investing in apprenticeship training. For example, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in the Yukon acts as an intermediary between employers and the vocational education system, minimising the administrative burden for employers. Both the apprenticeship programme and the intermediary role of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation give employers the incentive to take hiring risks that they would not otherwise (OECD, 2017c).

Understanding how training and skills development programmes are being implemented through case study analysis

Centre for Aboriginal Human Resources and Development (CAHRD)

CAHRD provides a holistic approach to education through individualised support services, including access to employment, academic and personal counselling. They offer student housing, on-site subsidised day care, and health and wellness activities. CAHRD provides quality education and training programmes through partnerships with the local community, education institutions, business, industry, and government (Shead, 2011). CAHRD has initiated five programmes that have their own institutional identities but operate as programmes of CAHRD. These include the following:

  • An Aboriginal Community Campus, which provides educational upgrading in math, English, chemistry, physics, biology, political science, and native languages;

  • Neeginan College of Applied Technology, which provides training in technical courses such as early childhood education, carpentry, and accounting, and positions such as building systems technician, medical laboratory technician, licensed practical nurse, educational assistant, and glassworker technician;

  • Kookum’s Place Daycare, a non-profit agency, which is licensed for forty-nine children of ages three months to six years;

  • Neeginan Village, a forty-two-unit students’ housing complex, and

  • Aboriginal Aerospace Initiative, an innovative programme for training up to two hundred Indigenous People for skilled jobs in the aerospace industry.

Synergies between these programmes provide Indigenous learners with a seamless transition from literacy and upgrading, through post-secondary training and to sustainable employment. New applicants to any Education or Training programme must attend a CAHRD Orientation Session and complete a Level Placement Test (LPT).

CAHRD offers literacy, education, post-secondary training to Indigenous People in Winnipeg. Neeginan College of Applied Technology, CAHRD’s post-secondary training division offers post-secondary programming mainly in industrial trades. Recently, Neeginan College was awarded funding through Western Economic Diversification Canada for its Computer Numerical Control (CNC) programme. The funding will be used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment so that programme trainees are trained on the most efficient and most technological advanced machinery available.

CNC Operators oversee the operation of all CNC equipment, often operating three or four machines at a time in larger manufacturing facility. Most operators are employed in the fabricated metal, machinery and plastics products manufacturing industries and require skills to operate or run the CNC Machine – not how to design one.

CAHRD’s CNC Machine Program is designed to be 8 months in length and to accommodate 12 to 16 students in each offering. The programme is offered on a continuous repeating cycle basis (every 8 to 9 months). The curriculum consists of Math, Blue Print Reading, Safety and Precision Measurement, Technical training including 25% theory and 75% practical, and concluding with a one-month work practicum.

Applicants who require pre-programme training will be enrolled in Pre- Trades Preparation, which would consist of trades specific upgrading, Essential Skills, high school Math and English, and employability skills. The length of this pre-programme would be specific to the individual applicant’s needs, ranging from one month to three or four months.

In general, skills development programming has increasingly become more employer/industry driven. Neeginan College has developed industry advisory committees for all of its training programmes, which facilitates on-going industry input into programme development and delivery.

Community Futures Treaty Seven (CFT7)

One of the more successful programmes for skills training that was cited by CFT7 (and in which they were a key implementing partner) is Trade Winds to Success. This programme is designed as a recruitment and pre-apprenticeship programme to assist Indigenous People into Alberta companies. Typical jobs that are the target of training included carpenter, electrician, iron worker, steam fitter, insulator, and millwright. The goal of the programme was to address the estimated shortfall of Skilled Trades People in Alberta over next decade.

The programme begins with a three week trade streaming process involving: assessment testing and visits to training sites, shops and local education facilities. Participants then go to an Informed Career Decision Making course to ensure they choose to study the trade that is right for them. After this, they move to the pre-apprenticeship training which includes: personal development (one week); academic upgrading (four weeks); writing an Entrance Exam 4 from Apprenticeship Industry and Trades; progress to eight weeks of union shop and hand tools training; employment a unions or employer of choice; and mentorship.

One of the key features of the programme is following up with individuals 6, and 12 months after their participation. It was an Indigenous staffed programme for Indigenous learners, which created a sense of belonging and trust among participants. Since 2005, there have been 52 programme intakes, with around 800 students graduated and 710 students finding a job (e.g. 90% placement rate). Trade Winds to Success is designed as a partnership between government, industry, Indigenous communities and unions. Unique supports were offered to students and mentorship was delivered at each stage of programme delivery by dedicated staff.

Trade Winds to Success Training Society is an Indigenous organisation that is supported through the Skills and Partnerships Fund (SPF) from July 2017 to March 2021 with a contribution from Employment and Social Development Canada of CAD 7.99 million. This organisation was previously support by ESDC through the SPF from February 2013 to March 2017. CFT7 contributed as a key project partner.

Kiikenomaga Kikenjigewen Employment & Training Services (KKETS)

Prominent labour market and skills development challenges facing Matawa First Nations communities include: remoteness of communities, shortage of jobs, and lack of education and experience to fill available employment opportunities. There is also a gap between the skills needed in the job market versus the skills the community members possess. This mismatch in skills poses a big labour market challenge for Matawa First Nations communities. With that, barriers such as mobility and education create additional obstacles for members to acquire well-paying employment.

To counter labour market and skills development challenges, KKETS offers several programmes, which provide skills upgrading opportunities to Matawa community members. The Aboriginal Skills Development Program (ASAP), allows adult learners to earn their Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD), giving them the opportunity to pursue further post-secondary education and skilled trades training offered by KKETS. Employment readiness training is built into the programme to provide individuals with life skills training and basic employment certifications such as First Aid and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System). Overall, the programme is designed to help members succeed, as it not only provides academic support, but also financial, emotional, social and cultural support. Another programme that is available to assist First Nations people with skills upgrading is the Nishnawbe Education and Training (NEAT) programme.

The Nishnawbe Education and Training (NEAT) programme, formerly known as the Ring of Fire Aboriginal Training Alliance (RoFATA), is a partnership between Confederation College, Noront and KKETS. The programme provides training for employment opportunities surrounding the mining industry for the Matawa First Nations community members. This initiative offers training through 12 skills upgrading programmes, categorized under Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 programmes. The training programmes range from Mining Essentials, Basic Line Cutting, Kitchen Helper, Remote Camp Supporter, Heavy Equipment Operator, Construction Craft Worker, Pre-Trades Welder, and many more (KKETS, 2017).

Under the NEAT partnership, a community member looking to upgrade their skills can enrol in the mentorship programme offered by Noront Resources. In this post-employment programme, a member is paired with an experienced worker to further refine skills and hone the tools necessary to excel in the occupation. The hands-on training is a key factor of success, as members not only get first-hand training from an experienced member in the industry, but also get an opportunity to strengthen their life skills such as workplace etiquette, including punctuality, dressing for work conditions, or following safety protocols. Apart from labour market and skills upgrading challenges, communities also face many economic development challenges that hinder their success in obtaining jobs.

Lack of resources, especially comparable funding, results in disparity in the quality of education that is provided in Matawa First Nations communities compared to more urban Northern Ontario communities. Notably, there is a gap in terms of delivery in First Nations education between federal (on-reserve) and provincial (off-reserve) education levels. Thus, when First Nations people leave to attend schools outside of their communities, they are routinely found to be producing work at a lower level than a non-Indigenous student of the same age and grade would normally be able to deliver. Education is the foundation for the strong economic viability of a nation. Despite that being the case, many First Nations students do not complete high school education, because it is simply not offered on-reserve and their families elect not to send their children away to complete secondary schooling. On the other hand, the reality is that most families anywhere would be reluctant to send their children away for years to school. The key issue is the lack of resources and lack of access to schools within Indigenous communities, which has created a serious inequity/divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

Furthermore, many First Nations communities are small and rural; as a result there is a challenge of finding qualified teachers who are willing to go into the communities to teach. This limited pool of available teachers puts Indigenous People at a disadvantage as they do not get the same opportunities as those residing in urban centres to develop diverse and robust basic skills. It is important to note that provisions for education and other matters to rural and remote First Nation communities will cost far more than provisions for urban communities. Not expending those resources has a greater cost in limiting those populations from pursuing further post-secondary education. The inability for First Nations youth to attain the necessary and equal basic level of secondary education has a profoundly negative effect on the overall economy, as individuals cannot enter and flourish in a competitive post-secondary education system with a sub-competitive skill set.

To address that barrier, the ASAP programme offers a foundation credit course to help students fill those learning gaps. Unfortunately, many community members still struggle as they have been out of school for a long time, which adds additional obstacles for them to learn and grasp the new information. To help address their concerns, KKETS often hires extra help to assist students one-on-one.

MAWIW Council

Access to education and lack of educational qualifications are significant barriers for Indigenous People to achieve labour market success in New Brunswick. Working in partnership with Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI), the MAWIW Council constantly collaborates on how to effectively deliver services to its First Nations communities. Programmes and services provided by the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) and the community economic development office attempt to tackle these obstacles.

JEDI focused its workforce development efforts through the New Brunswick Aboriginal Information and Communications Technology (NBAICT) project, which was partially funded by ESDC through the Skills and Partnerships Fund from June 2011 to March 2017 JEDI served 380 total clients of which 94 were employed at the end of the intervention and 12 returned to school. Completed courses included: Apprenticeship, Security Training, Archaeology Field Technician training, Trades orientation, Workplace Essential Skills and Worksite Safety courses. In addition, JEDI partnered with CCNB and Rasakti to train 10 Indigenous machinists. The current students will be offered employment with Rasakti at the end of their training and 10 additional machinists are expected to begin training in January 2018 (Joint Economic Development Intiative , 2018)

The success of the programme is due to JEDI’s strong partnership with Professional Quality Assurance and its sister company PLATO (Professional Aboriginal Testing Organization). The fully-accredited software tester training course has received great interest from Indigenous People across New Brunswick and has resulted in over 40 of the graduates working in full-time positions with PLATO Testing in Fredericton and Miramichi. This training will continue on for the next four years under the Indigenous Innovation Partnership Program (IIP) which is supported through SPF funding. JEDI has also offered programmes to Indigenous learners in the emerging and growing Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector in New Brunswick (see Box 2.1).

Box 2.1. ICT Training of Indigenous Learners using big data

The New Brunswick Aboriginal Information and Communications Technology project recruited Indigenous learners to take advanced ICT training in Big Data/Data Mining. These students graduated in June 2017. The Big Data/Data Mining programme is the result of funding received by the Collège communautaire du Nouveau Brunswick (CCNB) in partnership with the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s Post-Secondary Partnership Program. NBAICT managed this project for CCNB including the recruitment and selection of students, coordination, delivery of the fully accredited 62-week programme, and the creation of an online version of the Big Data/Data Mining programme

Source: Joint Economic Development Initiative (2018), Annual Report 2016-17.

Critical success factors identified from the case studies

Looking across the four case study areas, the following key lessons emerge regarding the implementation of Indigenous skills development programmes at the local level:

Providing supports through the life-cycle

All case study areas highlighted the importance of getting Indigenous youth off to the right start. This means ensuring a robust continuum of support from cradle to grave. Across the case study areas, there was clear need expressed for more resources for child care and early childhood education programmes. More resources are required to support the development of child care spaces, create child care facilities and infrastructure as well as address issues related to the recruitment and training of staff. This is a key issue both in supporting potentially unemployed Indigenous adults who often require child care and early childhood education support to participate in the labour market but also as a tool to mentor children about the benefits of education.

Improve educational pathways from high-school into postsecondary skills training

It is important to build stronger and clear pathways from high-school into postsecondary education (e.g. college and university). Better targeting Indigenous youth with career guidance, wrap-around supports (books, transportation back home during holidays, spending money) and labour market information is critical and supporting them to find quality job opportunities. Often, ISET can fill the gap by providing support for Indigenous People to go to postsecondary education. Indigenous students often require customised and catered supports to complete their studies therefore, it would be important to examine how ISET programmes could possibly be designed in the future to support the transition from high school to postsecondary education.

Addressing employment barriers

Indigenous People often face multiple barriers to employment and may require intensive pre-employment supports. This includes literacy and basic skills training, personal coaching and mentoring, as well as other supports, such as support with transportation to work (e.g. public transportation tickets or subsidies). During the case study interviews, agreement holders noted that they face significant pressure to respond to the demand for services and supports. These types of “wrap-around” supports are important to consider in the context of Indigenous active labour market programmes.

Injecting additional flexibility within the management of vocational education and training policies

OECD research has highlighted the benefits of a flexible vocational education and training system, which enables programmes and courses to be agile and customised to meet the needs of the local labour market (OECD, 2017b). Close partnerships between ISET agreement holders and community colleges can help provide targeted skills development opportunities for Indigenous People. To support this, community colleges could further explore opportunities to design and deliver tailored programmes to the needs of Indigenous learners. A good example concerns the work of the Aboriginal Centre for Human Resource Development (CAHRD) who partnered with Red River Community College to offer a 10 month training programme to its Indigenous learners. Usually, training programmes are of a short-term nature at around 8 weeks.

Employer engagement in providing work experience

While both ISET and SPF are geared towards partnerships, there is a clear need to better engage employers locally to ensure that skills development programmes are well aligned to demand. The Centre for Aboriginal Human Resources and Development is an innovative example as training programmes were organised directly in partnership with local employers who are able to offer some of the Indigenous People high quality and high productive jobs following the training period. This report has already highlighted the need to develop better labour market information (LMI). Better LMI can also assist in identifying emerging job opportunities in which skills training programme could then be customised to Indigenous People. In many cases, Indigenous People do not have applicable labour market experience, making the transition to high quality employment more difficult. There is a need for stronger employer outreach mechanisms that would help to identify job vacancies but also work with employers to raise awareness about the benefits of employing Indigenous People. Some organisations have developed a cultural course that they present to employers to increase the understanding of the Indigenous population. Finding other partners in the community that can work with businesses is also fundamental to raise an awareness and understanding about human resources policies and practices for Indigenous People.


Joint Economic Development Intiative (2018), Annual Report 2016-2017.

KKETS (2017), Employment & Training Services, (accessed on 13 February 2018).

OECD (2017a), Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2017b), Engaging Employers in Apprenticeship Opportunities: Making It Happen Locally, OECD Publishing,

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