The Pathway to Labour Force Readiness

First Nations communities across Atlantic Canada will play a significant role in shaping the economic future of the region, but are they ready?

The 2017 study Labour Force Readiness: The Pathway for Aboriginal Youth from High School into Post-secondary Education and Workforce Engagement sheds some light on the barriers and challenges faced by Indigenous youth as they navigate through education systems and employment.

There are three factors that contribute to youth labour readiness: high school education, post-secondary education and sustained employment.

Improving education outcomes for Indigenous peoples is key to narrowing the employment gap and reducing the challenges faced in attaining sustained employment.

Unfortunately, there are many barriers to education for Indigenous peoples such as insufficient career counseling and academic preparation, lack of culturally sensitive teaching and historical implications.

According to 2016 Statistics Canada data around 59 per cent of Indigenous youth graduate high school, while 87 per cent of non-Indigenous youth graduate. This statistic is better in Atlantic Canada with 65 per cent of Indigenous youth receiving their high school diploma.

The study also found that 91 per cent of youth reported that their school provided information about how to further their education, however, the study found that schools need to provide a more proactive timeframe to prepare students. Without a good understanding of how to reach academic and career goals, many Indigenous youth need to enroll in bridging programs delaying post-secondary education.

The historical implication of residential and day schools also poses a challenge to Indigenous youth. In 2016 it was reported that 31 per cent of youth in schools in the Maritime Provinces had a grandparent or parent who had attended residential schools. The intergenerational effects are often characterized by lower levels of parental support for education.

The study also found that 91 per cent of youth reported that their school provided information about how to further their education, however, the study found that schools need to provide a more proactive timeframe to prepare students. Without a good understanding of how to reach academic and career goals, many Indigenous youth need to enroll in bridging programs delaying post-secondary education.

The historical implication of residential and day schools also poses a challenge to Indigenous youth. In 2016 it was reported that 31 per cent of youth in schools in the Maritime Provinces had a grandparent or parent who had attended residential schools. The intergenerational effects are often characterized by lower levels of parental support for education.

It was also found that the transition from high school to post-secondary education can be difficult with cultural, financial, language, academic, daycare and scheduling challenges.

Post-secondary institutions typically don’t have a good understanding of the diversity of First Nation cultures although many institutions are starting to address this issue. Some institutions provide supports and culturally sensitive programs, but each institution is addressing this issue differently and at different paces making it inconsistent across the region.

Culturally insensitive assessment criteria, racism and financial constraints also play a role in post-secondary education rates and retainment for Indigenous youth.

Funding for post-secondary education is another challenge with around 83 percent of Indigenous youth applying for funding. Unfortunately, 47 per cent of those interviewed reported that the level of funding is insufficient.

Lastly, the lack of job opportunities on reserve and lack of appropriate skills/education attainment causes barriers to sustained employment for the Indigenous population.

The main employment opportunities are in fields such as professional IT, nursing and management, which require a high level of skill. Many of these professions require proficiency in math, science and English, areas in which Indigenous peoples are underrepresented.

It was found that 71 per cent of employment growth over the next ten years will be in highly skilled occupations. Currently, Indigenous people are working in semi-skilled and low-skilled sectors such as construction and fishing.

This difference in employment compared to the non-Indigenous population has resulted in 23 per cent lower earnings.

First Nations communities are also a major employer for their members with 58 per cent of Indigenous peoples being employed by the First Nations government. This puts pressure on the government to provide opportunities for a fast-growing population where there will be more people than jobs available.

Overall, it is clear that improving education for Indigenous youth will result in better outcomes and is key to narrowing the employment gap and will lessen barriers for sustainable employment.

We encourage you to visit the AAEDIRP blog and leave your answers to the discussion questions below in the comment section to join the conversation.

  • In your opinion, what changes need to be made to the public high school education system to properly involve Indigenous youth?
  • What are some ways post-secondary institutions can improve their approach to reconciliation?
  • What needs to be done in order to prepare Indigenous youth for the new highly skilled labour market?

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