Scaling Up Aboriginal Talent in the Workforce


By Jock Finlayson and Kristin St-Laurent

The 2016 Canadian Census revealed three major population trends in Canada: we are having fewer babies, progressively more boomers are transitioning into retirement, and most people are living longer.  Taken together, these trends point towards a population that is greying faster than at any other time in Canadian history.

Overall, it’s a good news story as it shows that Canadians are generally enjoying longer and healthier lives. However, the data also confirm that our society will soon face a mounting challenge in supporting the swelling ranks of those no longer in the workforce.

Young and Educated
There is one Canadian demographic, however, that remains relatively young: Aboriginal peoples. Since 2006, this cohort has increased in size by a remarkable 43 per cent, outstripping the growth of the non-Aboriginal population nearly four times over. The 2016 census counted 1.67 million Aboriginal people across the country—representing almost five per cent of the population. Among Indigenous communities, natural growth is being fuelled by higher fertility rates, greater life expectancy and an increase in the number of census respondents who self-identify as Aboriginal.

In B.C., the figures broadly mirror the national trends: the province’s non-Aboriginal population expanded by approximately 13 per cent in the past decade, while the Aboriginal population jumped by 38.5 per cent. Of concern, the 2016 data highlights persistent socio-economic gaps between Aboriginals and the rest of the population, including sub-standard housing conditions and rising numbers of children in care. However, time series data also underscores some positive trends – in particular, a better-educated Aboriginal population.

Growing Aboriginal Opportunity
As noted, B.C.’s Aboriginal population is relatively young, with an average age of 33 compared to 42 for the non-Aboriginal population. Even better, a rising proportion of Aboriginal people have some form of post-secondary education—a degree, a college credential or a trades certificate. Among Aboriginal adults under 44 years, in 2011 more than half had some kind of post-secondary qualification. In comparison, among non-Aboriginals under age 45, the share was a bit less than two-thirds.

For the under-45 cohort, post-secondary attainment rates for both trades certificates and college credentials are nearly identical between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Similarly, university credentials short of a bachelor’s degree are also close (4.9 per cent for non-Aboriginals compared to 3.5 per cent for Aboriginals). However, big gaps remain in the completion of a bachelor’s degree and also at the graduate and professional degree level. One in four non-Aboriginals under 45 had a bachelor’s degree or more in 2011, while one in 10 Aboriginals had the same level of education.

Talent is the secret sauce in a knowledge-based economy. As the provincial population grows older, every effort needs to be made to support the development and deepening of skills and talent across all demographic groups. The Aboriginal demographic—young, educated and expanding—is one source of talent that employers can tap. However, there are barriers to success that must be addressed if more Aboriginal peoples are to pursue the full array of opportunities in the economy.

Advancing Reconciliation Through Work
The Business Council of B.C. is committed to achieving reconciliation and providing pathways for full economic participation of Aboriginal peoples. Scaling-up Aboriginal talent in the workforce is an opportunity for employers to develop local talent and improve the well-being of Aboriginal communities.

In September 2016, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN) and the Business Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing both organizations to collaborate to build the province’s economy while narrowing (and eventually eliminating) socio-economic gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Our joint initiatives include the Champion’s Table, a group of 22 Chiefs and business leaders working together to advance reconciliation and create more economic partnerships between businesses and First Nations communities.

With the support of Vancouver Island University, the Business Council and the BCAFN have also launched the Indigenous Intern Leadership Program. The program, which includes a two-year paid internship within a BCBC member company, is designed to provide recent graduates with work-integrated learning experience, help develop future business and community leaders, and increase capacity in Aboriginal communities over the medium-term.

Scaling up Talent
A fast-growing Aboriginal cohort is an important source of talent and skills in a province where the overall population is aging and labour force growth rates will soon be in decline. Employers can—and should—be taking steps to leverage the advantages inherent in B.C.’s youngest demographic, while also contributing to the long-term goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president and chief policy officer, and Kristin St-Laurent is a policy analyst, with the Business Council of BC.

(PeopleTalk Winter 2017)

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