Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Driving FORCE Métis community significant economic resource

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Although time has passed quickly, I'm sure you'll recall that Manitoba recently celebrated Louis Riel Day. For most people, Louis Riel Day is simply another statutory holiday while for others, it is recognition that the Métis people were the driving force behind Manitoba becoming Canada's fifth province.

Many people and especially new immigrants are not familiar with the term Métis, nor its historical significance. To help bring about a better understanding, we define the Métis people as one of the aboriginal groups that can trace their ancestral heritage to marriages of mixed First Nations and European heritage. And today, 144 years later, our Métis citizens are once again being seen as a driving force in Manitoba's economy.

Yet, if the Métis people are indeed a driving force in the economy, where are they located? How can they be accessed as potential employees?

Believe it or not, if you checked recent demographic data, you'll find there are over 100,000 Métis people in Manitoba living in various communities. Over half of this population is under the age of 30 and lives in an urban setting. However, in spite of having the highest rate of post-secondary education completion of all aboriginal groups in the province, the Métis median income is 24 per cent lower than for non-aboriginal people.

As you can imagine, a population of 100,000 represents a significant and relatively untapped resource in terms of employment and business partnerships. The challenge now is how to create a co-ordinated effort to link potential job candidates with employers so they can work together as partners in Manitoba's economic growth.

For that linkage, we turn to two organizations: the Manitoba Métis Federation and the Métis Economic Development Organization, which both bring a significant toolkit of resources to the table. For instance, the Manitoba Métis Federation, or MMF, is the governing body for the Métis in Manitoba and has access to workforce development support dollars. This support ranges from wage subsidies for trainees, to sponsorship of specific job opportunities and "single seat" purchases for courses in various educational institutions.

This program, referred to as the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy, helps to prepare Métis people to work in a variety of sectors while at the same time, helping to defray some of the training and educational costs. The focus of the program is to create and foster partnerships with the private sector in order to create training opportunities for the Métis candidates that potentially lead to permanent employment.

The Métis Economic Development Organization (MEDO), on the other hand, is a business investment and management firm that operates as a Crown corporation for the Métis government (i.e. the MMF). The goal of this economic development organization is to invest in businesses directly, as well as entering into joint ventures with various private sector companies.

These partnerships are geared toward contributing to the financial sustainability of the Métis federation, while also creating opportunities for Métis-owned businesses to participate in these partnerships. MEDO also works to generate opportunities for the Métis employee candidates in terms of providing greater employment and training opportunities through these partnerships with the private sector.

A third resource for increasing the employability of Métis people is the Louis Riel Institute, an affiliate of the MMF that provides educational resources for Métis clients. Louis Riel Institute offers an adult learning centre that enables clients to build their education and enhance their knowledge and life skills. The institute also has the capacity for specialized training, often resulting from the private sector partnerships. For example, the institute could offer computer courses for Métis candidates as part of a training program for clerical workers.

There are three other resources that serve to empower Métis people to build and expand their businesses, giving them the ability to take on greater projects or more business which in turn leads to greater employment opportunities, often at the grassroots level. For instance, Louis Riel Capital Corp. is an award winning aboriginal capital corporation that specializes in commercial lending to Métis-owned businesses and Métis entrepreneurs.

Secondly, the Métis Economic Development Fund is an investment fund that provides equity to Métis-owned companies to enable them to leverage additional financing. Finally, the Métis Generation Fund for Resource and Energy Development provides equity to Métis-owned companies that operate in Manitoba's resource and energy sectors.

These Métis businesses are more frequently accessing special aboriginal procurement and set aside opportunities from the federal and provincial governments. Those businesses that qualify must be 51 per cent owned by a Métis or First Nations business owner and if there are more than six employees, then at least 30 per cent of these staff must be aboriginal. This in itself creates an incentive for businesses to hire aboriginal employees. Recognizing that government procurement programs are complicated, the MMF is holding a special conference on procurement on March 21-22 to help businesses understand how government works.

However, the MMF is not going to stop with simply these established initiatives. In fact, a new comprehensive Aboriginal Business Readiness Program aimed at building human capital for enhanced aboriginal participation in economic development projects and opportunities in Manitoba is well underway. Its objectives are directed to identifying participant communities, businesses and individuals and identifying economic development opportunities.

Once this identification is complete, the initiative will begin to identify the skill sets required for successful participation in whatever opportunities are discovered. This will lead to the design and delivery of a human capital building program that fits the unique needs and requirements of the opportunity.

With 100,000 Métis citizens in Manitoba, there are also plenty of opportunities for mainstream businesses to establish partnerships and alliances with Métis businesses that can benefit all parties.

With all of these initiatives, it would appear that 2012 is surely going to be a banner year for Manitoba's Métis people. With heightened awareness of this potential employee candidate resource and the accompanying training support, it only stands to reason that both employers and individuals will benefit, communities will benefit and the economy of Manitoba will benefit.

To learn more about these initiatives, call the Manitoba Métis Federation at (204) 586-8474.

Barbara J.Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group and vice-president of Waterhouse Executive Search. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 17, 2012 H1

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