November 2009

HR Outlook

Training is key – Skills development and the Aboriginal community

By S. Polowin

An insightful 2007 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal peoples entitled “Sharing Canada’s Prosperity: a Hand Up, Not a Handout” has attracted much attention from governments, advocacy groups and the general public. It reveals that perhaps more than any other group in society, Aboriginal Canadians require appropriate academic training in order to sustain their economic livelihood.

For various cultural, socio-economic, political and other reasons, Aboriginal Canadians have generally found it difficult to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that would enable them to find steady employment. The Senate Committee noted that a deficiency of human capital, particularly in basic skills, has impeded the development of a more adept Aboriginal workforce. Perhaps for this reason, technical and on-the-job training specifically targeted at the Aboriginal population has been the focus of attention in recent years.

The Canadian government has recently sponsored new projects in essential skills training through the Aboriginal Skills and Training Strategic Investment Fund (ASTSIF). The initiative finances short-term projects to help Aboriginal workers develop the skills necessary to improve their marketability and potential utility in the workforce. The most important of these at the federal level is the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP) program, which uses a holistic approach to provide technical training to those employed in the natural resources sector. The multi-stakeholder partnership includes federal and provincial governments, the private sector and Aboriginal community organizations.

A notable feature of the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Partnership (ASEP) program is its requirement that, in return for the training it
provides, recipient organizations must guarantee at least 50 long-term, full-time jobs. Thus far, mining-related ASEP projects have primarily involved the development and production stages of the mining cycle. The exploration sector, which offers many part-time, seasonal employment opportunities, has received less attention.

However, ASEP projects may include Aboriginal Human Resources Development Agreement (AHRDA) participants. AHRDAs provide social assistance and other services to Aboriginal trainees through various funding agreements with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC). At present, there are two ASEP projects in northern Ontario — the Whitefeather Forest ASEP (Pikangikum) and the Matachawan Aboriginal Access to Jobs Strategy project (Matachawan).

The role that essential skills play in one’s intellectual development and ability to contribute to society cannot be overstated. HRSDC has identified the following nine essential workplace skills: reading, document use, numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, thinking, computer use and continuous learning. Although the importance of these skills is indisputable, they are insufficient to enable one to perform well on the job; they must be supplemented with appropriate technical training and on-the-job experience.

The mining industry affords Aboriginal youth the opportunity to acquire academic training while working in the field. The industry can encourage greater Aboriginal employment by offering co-op placements at mine sites. They help those entering the workforce to refine their basic skills and acquire more advanced technical capabilities. This practical, skills-based exposure provides the foundation for long-term career success by giving individuals hands-on experience and providing networking opportunities. Many employers prefer workers who have acquired some experience through internship or work-study programs while in training.

Recently, the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association (CAMA) hosted its 17th annual conference in Toronto. The participants reflected upon the academic achievements of Aboriginal youth, and questioned whether they will be able to fully participate in the economic recovery expected in 2010. The ASEP and other similar programs are designed to help them achieve this objective.

Developing the skills necessary to have a successful career in any industry is a challenging and multi-faceted process. This is particularly true in the mining industry, which requires a diverse set of skills. The ASEP program exemplifies one approach that has assisted members of the Aboriginal community by increasing their marketability and skills in preparation for a career in mining.

Sheldon Polowin, program manager, research and labour market information at MiHR, is responsible for supporting the development of MIWIN.

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