This article, submitted by the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, was published in the Spring edition of ‘HR Matters’ – a newsletter put out by CPHR MB – Chartered Professionals in Human Resources Manitoba


Reconciliation and Employment

Consider this. Winnipeg has the largest Indigenous population of all metropolitan areas in Canada. Between 1996 and 2011 the Indigenous population grew by 14% compared to 3% for the non-Indigenous population.  Currently the median age of this population is 26 years. The highest population age group is 15-19 year olds, compared to 45-49 year olds in the non-Indigenous population. And for Indigenous people aged 15 and older, the unemployment rate is 10.3% compared to 5.3% for the non-Indigenous population. (Canada Census 2011 and earlier, National Household Survey, 2011)

Clearly, Winnipeg has a very young and rapidly growing Indigenous population with high rates of unemployment.

In 2015, the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council (WPRC) began grappling with this reality and asking if there might be a role for WPRC to develop employment opportunities for Indigenous youth in our community.

At the same time, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) launched its report, which confirmed the relevancy and urgency of Indigenous employment.  The report includes 94 Calls to Action.  Number 92 titled ‘Business and Reconciliation’ calls upon the corporate sector in Canada to:

“…ensure that Aboriginal peoples have equitable access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and …provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations. This will require skills based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, 2015)

This Call to Action is the guiding statement for the WPRC initiative.

Indigenous youth unemployment is a complex problem. Solving it requires employment opportunities to be sure. But it also requires support and training, intercultural awareness within workplaces, Indigenous human resource expertise, services such as childcare and transportation, and more.

The Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council table includes approximately 35 leaders from multiple sectors including education, labour, health, business, government, Indigenous leadership, non-profit groups and faith. The role of WPRC is not to do programming, but to convene collaborative efforts to tackle poverty-related issues. For complex problems where there is no one clear response, the diverse membership of WPRC allows for this multi-sectoral approach.

Business presence on the WPRC has been a key determinant for the focus on Indigenous youth employment because employers expressed an understanding and deep concern about the high unemployment rates among Indigenous youth, and are in a position to offer employment opportunities. There is a business case to be made for Indigenous employment, in addition to a human rights case. With a growing Indigenous population, more business customers are and will be Indigenous.  A diverse workforce which is representative of the community and customers being served is an important business consideration.

As WPRC began to explore this issue, we learned that there are numerous community organizations preparing Indigenous youth for the workforce with pre-employment training and work experience opportunities. These same organizations expressed that they often have trouble finding good jobs for the youth once they have graduated from training. Where they do have success certain conditions including the following, have been in place:

– An employer who understands the historical context and current reality of Indigenous experience, and champions support for Indigenous employment throughout the workplace
– Comprehensive post-employment support provided to both the employee and employer, through dedicated staff position(s)
– An employee mentor within the workplace
– Available and accessible childcare and transportation
– Flexible and adaptive human resource practices

WPRC also met with youth training participants. Many are anxious to work, and at the same time are aware of barriers such as childcare and criminal records. They expressed a desire for the stability that a job can bring and said that a good job would be one where they feel understood and part of a family.

Plan of action for Indigenous youth employment

Taking all of these factors into consideration – the TRC, the demographics, business interest,  trainers interest, and the voices of the youth – the WPRC created a plan of action titled ‘TRC92: Youth Employment’, named after the Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action #92.

TRC92: Youth Employment focuses on building awareness about issues related to Indigenous employment within private sector companies, and then creating links between businesses and community groups who are training Indigenous youth for employment. Starting with a small cohort of youth and businesses we will test out an employment plan, learn from it and build, with the aim of including more and more businesses and youth into the future.

Some private sector businesses already have a dedicated Indigenous employment program and have been successful at it. The Manitoba Construction Sector Council for example, has an Indigenous Engagement Strategy that incorporates workforce preparation, outreach and recruitment, retention and succession planning.

Manitoba Hydro as a large employer with a significant presence in Indigenous communities has targets for Indigenous employment, pre-placement trades programs, and workplace practices to build awareness and support Indigenous employees, including cultural awareness training and a speaker series for all staff and regular sharing circles for Indigenous staff.

In 2008, the City of Winnipeg adopted Oshki Annishinabe Nigaaniwak, the City’s Indigenous Youth Strategy. This innovative program is allocated $1 million annually to provide opportunities for Indigenous youth through culturally appropriate programs related to employment, literacy and recreation. In one successful project Indigenous youth were recruited, trained and hired for primary care paramedic positions. This approach will also be applied to other areas of the City workforce.

It is examples such as these that the WPRC and its partners hope to build on. Working together we can create a future in Winnipeg where poverty is significantly decreased by ensuring that Indigenous people have equitable access to jobs, prosperity and full participation in our community.