February 2013

HR Outlook

A collaborative approach to Aboriginal education

By Melanie Sturk

While the mining industry continues to invest in training and education for Aboriginal peoples, there is a need to better understand how to increase the success of education, which in turn leads to mining employment. In response, MiHR hosted the Aboriginal Mining Education Forum, an event that brought representatives from the mining industry, educational institutions and Aboriginal communities to the Hyatt Regency in Toronto to identify strategies for increasing successful education outcomes for Aboriginal people in mining, including actions participants could apply immediately in their respective networks. During forum discussions, delegates from educators, communities and industry recognized the benefit of working together to identify better approaches, as every party stands to benefit from their success. Building relationships and raising awareness of each community’s uniqueness emerged as a key component in working towards this goal. The importance of mentorship surfaced, as did training programs that cater to the specific needs of diverse cultures, communities and families.

Participants urged educators and industry to look to communities to gain the required understanding of various learning styles. Additionally, community members felt that an improved effort to acknowledge differences between First Nation, Métis and Inuit learners is needed. They stressed that the recognition of the cultural diversity among Canada’s Aboriginal groups, and the inclusion of Elders and community members in the learning process as advisors would make learning more meaningful for Aboriginal people and effectively retain learners in the system.

Mentorship for Aboriginal learners was also identified as an important part of the learning and education process. Mentorship programs were recognized as positive tools for supporting learners by providing a realistic role model who is readily available to answer questions. A mentor’s influence and guidance also play critical roles in showing young people what they can become, while keeping them focused on their goals. Participants felt this relationship often proves more effective than learning in a classroom, or could enhance the classroom experience. It is especially effective when a mentor returns to his or her own community, demonstrating that hard work and dedication breed success. Mentorship should continue as the learner moves into the workplace and continues to gain ­experience.

As many Aboriginal communities have unique cultural traditions and are located in remote regions, family and community needs may be different than those of urban communities. As such, industry will need to be innovative and flexible in its approach to creating education or training programs. Aboriginal peoples who choose to start a family at a young age should have every opportunity to learn and will need the flexibility and support of daycare within the community. Programs that cater to the unique needs of a culture, community and family will have the best chance to yield fruitful results.

The forum was not just about abstract ideas; it was also about taking action. Participants submitted “Ripple Effect” forms at the end of the final day, citing one action they would commit to taking post-forum – to address challenges related to Aboriginal education and mining. The concept is that one small action can have a huge knock-on effect. Actions included establishing a new professional connection, creating awareness, or pursuing a newly discovered training program. One respondent from the education sector left the forum with the intention of exploring the availability of MiHR’s Mining Essentials program, which teaches both essential and work-readiness skills the mining industry requires for entry-level positions. MiHR will follow up with delegates in the coming months to see how their actions have progressed, reporting on successes to ensure the positivity and willingness to collaborate seen during the forum gains momentum and leads to real change.

Forum discussions were captured by researchers and are available in the current Outcomes Report. The report provides insights on the challenges to successful education outcomes for Aboriginal peoples, recommendations to increase success and a foundation for forging new partnerships and initiatives. To read the report in its entirety, review themes submitted from the Ripple Effect initiative, or to join the Network for Aboriginal Mining Educators, please visit www.aboriginalmining.ca or contact Melanie Sturk at msturk@mihr.ca.

Melanie Sturk is the director of attraction, retention and transition at the Mining Industry Human Resources Council (MiHR), the national HR council for Canada’s minerals and metals industry. MiHR contributes to the strength, competiveness and sustainability of the mining industry by collaborating with all communities of interest in the development and implementation of HR solutions. Melanie is responsible for the initiatives that encourage new workers, particularly those from under-represented groups, to engage in mining careers that support the industry by enhancing workplace diversity.

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