Ottawa seeks to gather data on Indige­nous em­ploy­ment

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - JORDAN PRESS

A na­tional, mul­ti­pronged, mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ef­fort is un­der way to fig­ure out how Indige­nous peo­ples fare in the coun­try’s labour mar­ket and fill a data gap that is woe­fully wide.

In some cases, the lack of data has meant fed­eral of­fi­cials have al­lowed busi­nesses in the food and re­tail sec­tor to hire tem­po­rary for­eign work­ers near re­serves even though there are Indige­nous peo­ple who could fill the jobs, ow­ing to the high unem­ploy­ment rate in those com­mu­ni­ties.

Fed­eral and Indige­nous agen­cies are try­ing to fill that knowl­edge gap through a se­ries of sur­veys and out­reach ef­forts that will take years to com­plete and cost some $12-mil­lion.

In­ter­nal gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments point to some con­flict be­tween of­fi­cials about whether ef­forts are too costly or will yield ro­bust enough data to en­sure a new Indige­nous jobs strat­egy reaches more work­ers and boosts eco­nomic out­comes on re­serve.

The gov­ern­ment ex­pects that over the next decade, about 400,000 Indige­nous youth will join the work force, adding to the al­most 900,000 al­ready of work­ing age. At the same time, the Lib­er­als are craft­ing a new Indige­nous em­ploy­ment strat­egy to guide those work­ers in the labour mar­ket.

But the data needed to craft the strat­egy is woe­fully lack­ing or old.

“There is cur­rently a lack of upto-date, on-re­serve labour mar­ket in­for­ma­tion to sup­port pro­gram de­sign, ser­vice de­liv­ery and de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” said Matt Pas­cuzzo, a spokesman for Labour Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu. “The cen­sus is the only source of labour mar­ket in­for­ma­tion for the on­re­serve pop­u­la­tion and it takes place every five years.”

Mr. Pas­cuzzo said the gov­ern­ment would like to see on-re­serve labour in­for­ma­tion up­dated an­nu­ally to pro­vide a clearer pic­ture about skills and train­ing needs, em­ploy­ment and ed­u­ca­tion of Indige­nous peo­ples on re­serves.

Statis­tics Canada, which runs the cen­sus, ques­tioned how use­ful the $12-mil­lion pro­gram would be, be­liev­ing that the cen­sus and tax-fil­ing data would be more than enough to un­der­stand the on-re­serve labour force.

Ms. Ha­jdu’s of­fi­cials ar­gued in a brief­ing note to her ear­lier this year that Statis­tics Canada’s meth­ods were sound, but have “proven to be costly.”

“There is a need to take steps to­wards re­duc­ing the gap in on­re­serve labour force in­for­ma­tion,” reads the brief­ing note, ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press un­der the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion Act. “Al­though the re­sults will not be as ro­bust as that of Statis­tics Canada’s [monthly labour force sur­vey], the in­vest­ment of $12 [mil­lion] is a start.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment will spend the money be­tween now and 2022 to for a new jobs sur­vey on re­serves, while also work­ing with Statis­tics Canada to see if Indige­nous tax fil­ings can be used to glean im­por­tant em­ploy­ment de­tails. There are also plans to use in­for­ma­tion al­ready be­ing held by other de­part­ments and lev­els of gov­ern­ments and work with groups that de­liver job pro­gram­ming on and off re­serve.

The First Na­tions In­for­ma­tion Gover­nance Cen­tre plans to roll out a ma­jor em­ploy­ment sur­vey next year.

The Na­tional Abo­rig­i­nal Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Board is look­ing to cre­ate a skills in­ven­tory for On­tario, mir­ror­ing sim­i­lar pushes in other prov­inces. In­terim board chair Dawn Madah­bee Leach said the in­ven­tory will help match Indige­nous work­ers, par­tic­u­larly young peo­ple, with avail­able jobs to help them get a foot into the labour force.

“Open­ing those doors is the big­gest thing,” she said.

The lat­est cen­sus fig­ures on Indige­nous in­comes on re­serve show that the me­dian em­ploy­ment-re­lated in­come ranged from over $40,000 an­nu­ally in three com­mu­ni­ties to 22 com­mu­ni­ties with me­dian em­ploy­ment in­comes be­low $10,000.

How­ever, the fig­ures are not a com­plete pic­ture of what hap­pens on re­serve: Many de­tails have been sup­pressed over pri­vacy con­cerns by the statis­tics of­fice, which will pro­vide cen­sus data about Indige­nous Peo­ples in Canada later this month.

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