There is limited understanding among Indigenous peoples of the career opportunities within the electricity sector. On the other hand, there is limited awareness of how to attract or otherwise access qualified Aboriginal candidates.
Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative
This initiative informed the development of a cohesive and integrated strategy for increasing the participation of Indigenous workers in the electricity sector.
HR Guide & Tool for Employers, Best Practices, and Youth Pilot Projects
It has become clear from a growing demand for a skilled workforce, that the electricity industry will need to develop new, sustainable recruitment strategies.
Canada’s Aboriginal (also called Indigenous) population presents an under-utilized source: growing nearly six times faster than the rest of Canada and often young, accessible, and ready to enter the workforce. In addition, many Aboriginal communities are located near electricity installations. Despite these advantages, various barriers prevent Aboriginal peoples from fully participating in the electricity workforce. To help alleviate these barriers, and to support relationship development between industry and Aboriginal communities, Electricity Human Resources Canada (EHRC, then the Electricity Sector Council) designed the Aboriginal Workforce Participation Initiative.
Barriers to Participation
To establish a focused platform for a strategy, EHRC has distinguished five categories of important barriers to Aboriginal participation in the electricity sector.
Knowledge and Interest: Attracting Aboriginal People to the Sector
Education and Essential Skills: Ensuring a Strong Foundation
Educational attainment levels are much lower among First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples than among the non-Aboriginal population. This significantly reduces their ability to access skilled occupations such as electrician and engineer.
Training and Job Skills: Building Job Readiness
Finding an opportunity with a union or employer for job training and/or apprenticeships is challenging without a solid educational grounding is not solid. Additionally, when Aboriginal candidates who live in a rural or on-reserve area must relocate for job training, this can create personal, social and financial demands on top of training challenges. Finally, limited workplace experience can make it difficult for Aboriginal candidates to successfully compete for opportunities.
The Worker as a Person: Enhancing Success
Personal and/or family challenges often arise for First Nations, Métis and Inuit workers when they are faced with balancing their culture and traditions with the demands of a structured work environment and/or an urban living environment, often at a considerable distance from their home community.
The Work Environment: Welcoming Aboriginal Peoples In
There remains a set of inequities, whether subtle or evident, small or large, which make it difficult for Aboriginal workers to thrive within many Canadian organizations. Racism and discrimination still exist and other systemic, subtler barriers are created when management practices or HR policies are constructed solely from the perspective of non-Aboriginal cultures.
10 Tips for a Successful Strategy
1. Establish a Focus
Being explicit about the focus and which interests are being addressed creates the platform for trusting relationships among all parties involved. Interests of the community and the individuals must be explored and understood in order to find the best alignment with the company’s and industry’s near-term or long-term interests. The needs of various First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities vary considerably across geography, in particular.
2. Operationalize What 'Success' Means
It is important to specify the intended outcome, in clear language and with quantitative goals where appropriate. A number of relationships between Aboriginal communities and local employers have suffered because of a lack of clarity regarding the expected result. For example, is short-term employment on a capital project ‘success’, or does the initiative seek to transition workers into long-term sustainable employment? Is skill development a stand-alone goal, or is successful completion of an apprenticeship the definition of success? What do we expect managers to do differently, after having participated in an Aboriginal awareness training session?
3. Invest Effort to Build Effective Partnerships
Employers rely on networks of contacts within Aboriginal communities to help them identify potential candidates for job opportunities. Many of these relationships are reported to be extremely successful. Some Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy holders (ASET) provide services beyond basic referral of candidates, such as pre-assessing applicants, confirming education and experience, and providing reference information or helpful background information on applicants. However, some Aboriginal communities are less experienced or otherwise have more limited capability to be valuable partners in the recruitment process. Efforts to build workable partnerships have been seen to yield a good result.
4. Tailor to the Community
Aboriginal communities vary considerably from region to region; across the various First Nations, Inuit and Métis; from urban to rural to remote; from reserve to off-reserve; etc. Their needs are not the same. Successful employment practices explicitly reflect this fact and are flexible enough to be adjusted accordingly.
Tailoring the practice to the community has benefits beyond the immediately pragmatic. Companies create the conditions for a collaborative and trusting relationship with the community when they expend the effort to understand the community, to adapt their approach to the community’s needs, and to have a meaningful dialogue with the community representatives.
5. Start Early (Really Early)
Skill development initiatives, in particular, are not a ‘quick fix’. Aboriginal educational statistics reveal that the gap in post-secondary completion is largely, if not completely, the result of low completion rates for secondary school among the Aboriginal population. Consequently, several initiatives have been designed to encourage elementary and high school students to stay in school and pursue studies that could lead to trades or technical professions. Even with adults, lead times of 2-3 years for educational upgrading are often appropriate.
6. Consider the Full 'Employment Life Cycle'
Most initiatives are focused almost exclusively on skill upgrading. Substantially fewer initiatives give much attention to hiring, and very few indeed extend the effort through to orientation, performance management, training and retention. A select few passionate individuals evidently work tirelessly in their organization to follow individual Aboriginal hires, provide them with support as required, and intervene as a coach to help managers and Aboriginal staff resolve issues. While this is a positive step, its success can rest entirely with the particular individual, rather than being supported or institutionalized in management practices in the company. Systemic approaches for supporting Aboriginals through the entire cycle from upgrading, through training or apprenticeship, and subsequently through their career in the organization are seemingly in very short supply within the industry.
7. Maintain Required Standards
Ensure that job requirements are bona fide and that standards for entry are not unnecessarily high so as to create a systemic barrier. At the same time, organizations should not be tempted to lower requirements that are necessary for the safe and effective performance of the job. Aboriginal workers do not want an ‘easy pass’ into employment. Participants in the symposia and in the interviews have emphasized that any increase in the participation of Aboriginals in the industry will only be sustainable if those who are hired are able to do the work and succeed. Nonetheless, some question whether all existing requirements are still relevant to today’s occupations. Within the electricity industry, increasing use of automated systems and new technologies, such as smart meters, make some skill sets obsolete while creating new skill set requirements.
8. Be High-Touch
Many Aboriginal people confront multiple challenges in pursuing training and job opportunities in the electricity sector. First Nations, Métis or Inuit people who are required to relocate from their community to pursue training or education can face several difficulties. These challenges collectively form an important barrier in addition to the steep learning curve faced by any new hire or trainee. A number of interviewees described the great benefit of having ‘someone to talk to’, someone to ask questions of ‘without being embarrassed’. The most successful programs include elements such as access to elders, Aboriginal counsellors, mentors, social networks, job coaches, designated program or company staff, and other support systems. ‘The right support makes a difference.’
9. Invest in Relationships
Reaching out to Aboriginal workers and communities to increase their engagement in the electricity industry is most successful when there is a foundation of credible, trustworthy relationships. ‘Our strategy cannot just be numbers, it has to be based on relationships, which have to be mutually beneficial.’ ‘Trust’ and ‘relationships’ have been mentioned over and over again as the key elements in moving forward to encourage greater Aboriginal participation in the industry.
10. Support the Aboriginal Cultural Experience
Successful training initiatives, in particular, have embedded Aboriginal cultural traditions in the day-to-day experience of their students. Very few employers report having adopted similar practices with their Aboriginal employees. Anecdotally, issues such as inflexible bereavement leave policies are often cited as barriers to retention of Aboriginal workers. Faced with a choice of respecting their cultural norms and community expectations or complying with an employer’s arbitrary policy, many First Nations, Métis or Inuit workers will choose their culture and community.
The Initiative is based on four strategic assertions to ensure success:
Strategic Assertion 1
Maintain a focus on issues directly and closely related to the industry’s workforce. In particular, the focus is on developing, attracting and retaining skilled Aboriginal workers.
Strategic Assertion 2
Have a strategic intent to create concurrent improvements in all stages of the employment cycle. Take advantage of mutually reinforcing solutions to move forward on several fronts simultaneously. For example: success in one area such as retention will build success in others, such as the industry’s ability to recruit.
Strategic Assertion 3
Focus on developing pragmatic initiatives and tools in labour force development, outreach, hiring, and retention.
Strategic Assertion 4
In addition to having a direct impact on the numbers, capabilities and engagement of the Aboriginal workforce within the industry, the initiatives within this strategy will address cross-cutting themes such as collaborative relationships and partnership models, building capacity among stakeholders, and a focus on positive, sustainable outcomes.
Electrical Trades Orientation Program
The Electrical Trades Orientation Program was created to develop a program that would provide pre-trades orientation and upskilling to Aboriginal adults. EHRC and other stakeholders in the AWPI strategy developed and tested key elements for a transferable and scale-able initiative conducting a pilot program. The 2011 pilot program provided pre-trades orientation to Aboriginal adults across ca 15-week program from January to April, in Happy Valley – Goose Bay, NL. The program was initiated and co-sponsored by EHRC and the Labrador Aboriginal Training Partnership (LATP).
Overall, it appears that the participants were satisfied with the content and design of the program, and it achieved the anticipated outcome. All nine participants completed the originally planned 14 weeks of instruction and several also completed a week of ‘job shadowing.’ Of eight students who took for-credit courses, four achieved a credit in Workplace Communication and five achieved a credit in Workplace Skills. The learners were asked to complete brief questionnaires to provide their feedback on the program at five different points: the students indicated a high level of satisfaction with the program content and its delivery. The students felt they received enough information about each trade to make an informed decision regarding courses for the future. Most participants were able to make a clear choice to enter an electricity and renewables sector occupation (5 of the 9) or to pursue another career path. There were 1 or 2 who remained undecided at the end of the program. When asked directly about whether the program met their expectations, the students provided positive results.
Bright Futures Aboriginal Youth Camps
EHRC created the youth camp initiative to address one of the key barriers to increasing Aboriginal involvement in the electricity sector: limited educational background in the mathematics and science required for employment in the industry. The camps are oriented to pre-teen youth (approximate ages 10-13). Attendees build relevant interest, knowledge and confidence in advance of making educational and career choices.
The camp curriculum includes a mix of hands-on activities, facilitated discussions, Respect for Aboriginal cultures are embedded within the week’s activities such as: a local Elder participating in the opening and/or closing of the camp, with a prayer and/or a smudge ceremony (depending on the cultural traditions of a particular community). Modified Guiding Circles activities are also used as a method of exploring participant perspectives on careers, personal strengths, and learnings from the camp.
Windspeaker is the largest circulated national Aboriginal newspaper, published monthly by the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society (AMMSA).
Say Magazine is the largest national magazine for and about Aboriginal youth—the largest growing demographic in North America. This monthly magazine is in its sixth year of publication.
Contacting or advertising in a local paper is an effective way to target specific areas, especially in rural or remote regions. Contact your local band office to see how they disseminate information; most have a community newsletter where job advertisements or other information can be posted.
Web, Radio and Television
Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) is the first and only national Aboriginal broadcaster in the world, with programming by, for and about Aboriginal Peoples, to share with all Canadians as well as viewers around the world.
Taqramiut Nipingat Inc is the TV & Radio network of Nunavik, or Arctic Quebec. TNI’s 15 hours of weekly radio programs are broadcast via the Northern Service of the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC). Their half-hour of weekly television program is broadcast on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).
Local community radio stations—many communities maintain their own local stations which are often used as the main source of information for the community.
Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Portal is your single window to First Nations, Inuit and Métis on-line resources, contacts, information, and government programs and services in Canada.
Indigenous Careers connects employers and educators directly to the Aboriginal talent pool and to over 400 Aboriginal employment centres. The site has hundreds of registered employers and over 3,000 Aboriginal job seekers. This job site is designed with state-of-the-art functionality that helps employers and Aboriginal job seekers make better career connections.
NationTalk is a national Aboriginal newswire and employment service, updated daily.
The recommended initiatives have been selected, based on the four strategic assertations, to consider: Near- and long-term actions leading to a sustainable increase in the engagement of Aboriginal workers in the sector; Initiatives that can be carried out at a national, provincial and/or local level; Investments and solutions that do not already appear to be fully in place; & Initiatives that can be combined to serve multiple purposes.