Indigenous youth essential to workforce: study

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OTTAWA — Young, Indigenous Manitobans are key to growing the province’s economy, says a report that warns Manitoba could lose 11 per cent of its workforce growth in 20 years.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/10/2017 (1811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Young, Indigenous Manitobans are key to growing the province’s economy, says a report that warns Manitoba could lose 11 per cent of its workforce growth in 20 years.

Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, said fixing a persistent employment gap for Indigenous Canadians could be an economic juggernaut for the province.

“There’s obviously costs involved, but it’s more of a resource for Manitoba,” said Sharpe, who co-authored the report, which his non-profit economic research group released on Monday.

According to Statistics Canada, Indigenous people made up 3.5 per cent of Canada’s working-age population in the 2011 National Household Survey, a number expected to almost double by 2036.

Yet the current percentage of Indigenous people in the workforce is five points lower than non-Indigenous Canadians, a gap that swells to 12.4 per cent for 15- to 24-year-olds.

“How the large Indigenous youth population in particular fares economically will determine to a very important extent how the Canadian economy fares,” the report said.

That’s especially true for Manitoba. Even with the high number of immigrants and people moving from other provinces, Indigenous people are set to account for 41 per cent of growth in Manitoba’s labour force between 2011 and 2036, if trends continue.

But that proportion could jump to 52 per cent — an extra 34,000 workers — if Indigenous people take up work at the same rate as other Manitobans. That would help Canada cope with an aging population and likely reduce spending on social programs.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is pushing for Indigenous people to be seen as an opportunity for the province, instead of a burden.

“We’ve known all of this. Manitoba has one of the fastest-growing populations and, unfortunately, we have some of the worst statistics,” he said, citing housing issues and poverty. “There really needs to be a significant change in how things are done here, fairly soon, in order to accommodate what is literally rushing towards us.”

The report comes ahead of a meeting today between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, provincial premiers and the leaders of three large Indigenous groups.

It echoes a 2015 study by the same group, which suggested improving broadband internet access in northern communities and more stable, locally controlled funding for social programs. That study suggested Canada could boost its gross domestic product by $36.4 billion in 2031 — should the employment, income and education gaps be closed.

Shauna MacKinnon, chairwoman of Urban and Inner-City Studies at the University of Winnipeg, said bridging those disparities will take more than improving education and reducing poverty.

“It’s not just about matching people with jobs. If we continue to narrowly focus on that, we’re not going to be successful,” she said.

Two years ago, MacKinnon authored a report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on the concept of a “labour market intermediary,” a person to help employers retain and accommodate Indigenous staff.

MacKinnon said some Indigenous people come from decimated communities where few family members have held down a job, and so they need help learning workplace customs — but they often become productive employees.

She said some also need cultural accommodations. For example, many First Nations people return to their community for a week when a cousin or aunt dies, whereas others might take a day off and return to work if they’re mourning a distant family member.

Monday’s report notes its projections could be skewed if interprovincial migration trends change and if the Indigenous fertility rate does not decline to the level of the general population.

The data can change if fewer people obtain Indigenous status. Particularly in provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia, people have discovered their First Nations or Métis roots decades after their family members tried hiding them.

Legislation such as Bill S-3 aims to restore Indian status to women who lost it through marriage, as well as their descendants, which number at least 35,000 Canadians.

A separate January report by the Conference Board of Canada found Manitoba’s economic growth should overtake the Prairies and British Columbia by 2032, largely because of its young Indigenous population.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

Indigenous labour force study

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