Stigmatized as being unreliable workers, aboriginals are are increasingly demolishing those labels and are poised to fill a growing labour shortage in Canada, said First Nations entrepreneurs Monday.
“The big challenge is stereotypes. Some of the population think they have a chip on their shoulder,” Kelley J. Lendsay, CEO of the Aboriginal Human Resource Council said of First Nations workers at the second Aboriginal Entrepreneurs Conference and Trade Show Monday.
“Twenty years ago, aboriginals were stigmatized. You still might see something every once in a while, but I tell our workers to move past it and keep driving forward,” said Richard Fournier, a Métis and President of inGenius People, a staffing agency for aboriginal workers he helped found three years ago. “Traditional trades used to be high on the list, but I’m seeing much more high tech workers and businesses. Our client base has grown three times in the last two years.”
Driving that growth, in part, are looming job shortages in the skilled trades, said Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, John Duncan. “There will be shortages of 163,000 workers in construction, 130,000 in the oil and gas sector and 140,000 workers in mining,” he said. “At the same time, the aboriginal population is growing at twice the rate of the rest of Canada. This represents a tremendous opportunity to meet Canada’s labour needs.”
Aboriginals are moving past their history of social exclusion and residential schools, Lendsay said. “We’re moving past the highway of tears and writing a new chapter of highways to prosperity, highways to hope.”
Still, there is a lot of work to be done said Fournier. “I’ve seen change. There’s still a lot of work to do breaking down barriers and creating trust. I want to show our young folks that if you stick with school, the opportunities are big.”