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This article was published 16/9/2015 (2106 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A physically demanding one-month contract position, paying $13 an hour, attracted more than 100 inner-city men and women -- many aboriginal -- to apply for the eight positions.
This type of turnout immediately dispels the racist and classist assumptions that the poor, and specifically aboriginal poor, are lazy and uninterested in work.
Those of us who study labour-market trends are not surprised by news of the turnout. Aboriginal employment participation rates in Manitoba's urban centres range between 65 per cent in Winnipeg to 69 per cent in Thompson. Although lower than the non-aboriginal rates (69 per cent and 82 per cent respectively), the statistics show aboriginal Manitobans are a vital component of the province's labour market.
The challenge is to increase the participation rate and close the income gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal workers.
In Winnipeg, aboriginal males earn $88 for every $100 earned by a non-aboriginal man; for women, the disparity is less at $91.32/$100 for every non-aboriginal woman.
Meeting this challenge is even more important given the fact Manitoba's aboriginal population is young and growing. The median age is 21 versus 39 for the non-aboriginal population. Manitoba's aboriginal population is projected to grow from 16 per cent of the total population to between 19 and 21 per cent by 2031. For this reason alone, providing training and job opportunities that meet the needs of aboriginal people should be a public-policy priority.
Social enterprises such as Manitoba Green Retrofit and BUILD (Building Urban Industry for Local Development) know inner-city residents want to work, but they also understand the barriers preventing many from entering the workforce. These enterprises provide the necessary training and support to people who may have not finished their schooling, have had interaction with the criminal justice system, are dealing with addictions, are homeless, do not have official identification and who may never have had a job. MGR knows how to tailor the hiring process: no complicated forms to fill out; no hoops to jump through. Just wear your workboots, show up on time and be willing to work hard.
BUILD and MGR give people an opportunity to learn how to work, to experience the satisfaction of being self-sufficient and to feel proud of their accomplishments.
It's an opportunity the general manager of MGR, Lucas Stewart, wishes he could offer to every applicant. Being able to hire only eight people from all the applicants is "heartbreaking." Sara Atnikov, MGR's office manager, says "The hardest thing about this is that everyone is so qualified and keen, but there aren't enough jobs. So we have to go through 104 resumés and make really hard decisions."
The staff at MGR and BUILD is frustrated: they don't have enough work to meet the supply of inner-city workers who need that first break into the labour market, or access to job training. The province does partner with BUILD and MGR, but it could be providing more procurement work than it is. Furthermore, the province's support has been dramatically hampered by the federal government's new Canada Jobs Grant, which directs resources away from programs that are specifically designed for multi-barriered workers. This federal policy redesign means fewer inner-city workers will get the training and job opportunities they need.
If governments would recognize the advantages of partnering with social enterprises such as MGR, more people would get the training and experience they need to meet Manitoba's future labour-market demands, while giving people an opportunity to realize their full potential.
Lynne Fernandez holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba.