Indigenous student career fair seeks to meet real need
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Winnipeg’s newest student career fair is linking Indigenous learners to job opportunities citywide in an effort to answer the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action.
More than 30 local businesses set up booths on Red River College Polytechnic’s downtown campus Wednesday to both find qualified candidates — for positions ranging from bank teller to school bus driver — and diversify their respective employee rosters.
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people make up 18 per cent of Manitoba’s overall population, but event organizer Carla Kematch noted workforces across the province don’t reflect that.
“Even at the college itself, we’re only sitting at six per cent (of employees who self-identify as Indigenous) — so we have to create more opportunities for Indigenous people to be hired and not be excluded,” said RRC Polytech’s director of truth and reconciliation and community engagement.
The event marked the first time RRC Polytech and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce hosted a full job expo tailored to Indigenous students. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the partners to originally launch the initiative online two years ago.
Kematch said the initiative addresses the TRC’s appeal to public servants to educate themselves on the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada, as well as its emphasis on the role business officials play in reconciliation.
No. 92 of the TRC’s 94 calls to action is on Canada’s corporate sector to ensure Indigenous people have “equitable access to jobs, training and education opportunities.”
The Wednesday career fair drew dozens to Manitou a bi Bii daziigae — the latest addition to RRC Polytech’s campus in the Exchange District, a building named after an Anishinaabemowin phrase that translates to “where creator sits and brings light.”
Participants met with representatives from The Forks, APTN, Manitoba Hydro, Comforts of Home Care, and Scotiabank, among others, and got professional headshots taken, free of charge. Employers in attendance, all of whom had at least one open job posting, were welcome to host interviews on-site.
“This isn’t a marketing exercise. This isn’t trying to build brand awareness. It is: ‘We have real need and we want to meet that need with our commitment to truth and reconciliation, and engage the Indigenous youth of our community to provide that opportunity,’” said Loren Remillard, president and chief executive officer of the Winnipeg Chamber.
Statistics Canada’s latest data show the unemployment rate among the population of residents aged 15 and up in Western Canada is five per cent. It’s 7.6 per cent among the Indigenous population.
Noting Indigenous youth make up the fastest-growing segment of the population, Remillard said that reality is both a challenge and opportunity. Companies that welcome Indigenous lived experience and embrace traditional knowledge broaden their perspectives and problem-solving abilities, which in turn boosts their overall success, he added.
RRC Polytech’s work-integrated learning staff prepare Indigenous students for their internships and future jobs with advice on resume building and interviewing throughout the year.
Kematch said many Indigenous pupils are first generation post-secondary students, owing to a wide array of barriers, including limited access to Grade 12 education on reserves and exclusionary Indian Act policies throughout history.
“We need to be able to prepare them for the workforce itself — what to expect, how-to present yourself, how-to self yourself and present your skills that you have,” she said.
James McKay, a 28-year-old aspiring chef, was drawn to Wednesday’s event, his first career fair, as a result of its emphasis on supporting Indigenous youth.
“When I’m done my program, maybe I’ll contact one of these companies,” said McKay, who is studying Indigenous culinary skills. “I took a couple of (business) cards.”