As Canada’s energy sector struggles to attract skilled employees and stave off its worker shortage, opportunities exist for companies to tap into a talent pool from their backyards, specifically, Indigenous Peoples. But these opportunities must be done right—to do it right requires commitment, sensitivity, time, vulnerability, and hard work.

Engaging with Indigenous communities and people in a respectful and culturally sensitive manner is vital for creating an inclusive and diverse workplace. This means more than simply checking a box. It’s about building meaningful relationships and promoting social responsibility.

Why it’s important

Canada’s energy industry is a major employer of Indigenous Peoples—First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities—and the Indigenous workforce is growing steadily.

According to the 2021 Census, Indigenous Peoples made up over 7% of the energy industry’s labour force, outstripping the national average of 4% across all sectors. These numbers were made up of 18% Indigenous women, 10% youth aged 15-24, and 15% people aged 55 and above. Indigenous participation in the energy sector is greatest in Alberta with around 60% of Indigenous workers in the industry.

The top five energy industry occupations chosen by Indigenous Peoples are:

  • Heavy equipment operators
  • Oil and gas drilling, servicing, and related labourers
  • Central control and process operators in petroleum, gas, and chemical processing
  • Transport truck drivers
  • Contractors and supervisors in oil and gas drilling and services

This employment pattern highlights the crucial part Indigenous Peoples play in the industry’s workforce and their substantial and increasing contribution to Canada’s energy landscape.

It’s worth noting that Indigenous youth are among Canada’s fastest-growing demographics, presenting an opportunity to develop a workforce for Canada’s energy future.

The Public Policy Forum’s (PPF) 2020 report, Mapping the Landscape: Indigenous Skills Training and Jobs in Canada, estimates around 350,000 Indigenous youth will reach age of employment by 2026. This short time window means it is vital to address the lack of essential skills amongst Indigenous youth and adults, and the underemployment of skilled Indigenous workers.

“If this cohort gets the support they need to build essential skills through access to quality, targeted, and culturally appropriate education, skills and training, they would boost the country’s economy by $27.7 billion annually.”

Public Policy Forum

Nine skills employers are looking for as outlined in Skills for Success are:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Numeracy
  • Digital skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Adaptability 

By the numbers

  • In 2021, the average age of Indigenous Peoples was nearly 9 years younger than the non-Indigenous population; 33.6 years for Indigenous Peoples and 41.8 years for the non-indigenous population.
  • Youth aged 15 to 24, made up 17% of the total population of Indigenous Peoples, a larger proportion than among the non-Indigenous population at 12%.

What you can do – hiring and retaining Indigenous workers

Cultural awareness and sensitivity are vital when recruiting and retaining Indigenous employees. Organizations need to take the time to educate themselves and their staff about the history, culture, and values of Indigenous communities in and around their region and areas where they are recruiting. It is also important to foster a work environment supportive of Indigenous employees’ cultural needs.

Increasing recruitment of Indigenous Peoples requires changes to hiring practices that make career opportunities more accessible to them. Companies can remove non-essential requirements from job ads—listing too many qualifications can discourage good candidates from applying. Companies should also recognize that people can have the necessary skills even if they don’t have extensive experience or a specific education level.

Employers need to consider the effect cultural differences can have on the interview experience. Some Indigenous people may see highlighting their individual accomplishments as boasting, and instead speak to what they achieved as part of a group. A variety of Indigenous values and teachings impact an applicant’s ability to be boastful of their skills, experience, or expertise. For example, consider creating questions that allow for sharing. It is also essential for organizations to learn about the historical relationships between Indigenous Peoples and Canada.  

Creating culturally safe and inclusive environments encourages Indigenous employees to stay, as they often leave a job due to negative stereotypes and a lack of cultural sensitivity. Some ways companies can do to retain Indigenous workers are:

  • Research the cultural practices specific to the communities of Indigenous workers. Canada is home to more than 650 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities—the cultural ways of knowing and being of different Indigenous communities vary.
  • Provide Indigenous awareness training to workers and leaders—sensitivity training, information sessions with community Elders and Knowledge Keepers, etc.
  • Be sensitive and proactive to remove barriers Indigenous Peoples confront—racism, poverty, remote communities, trauma related to the residential school legacy, etc.
  • Provide flexible work policies to accommodate cultural activities, traditions, and practical limitations—access to transportation, childcare, technology, etc.
  • Commit to the ongoing hiring of Indigenous Peoples so workers can connect to peers and role models and prevent feelings of isolation in the workplace.
  • Offer mentorship and coaching opportunities to experienced Indigenous employees and consider involving Elders and Knowledge Keepers in these programs.
  • Provide clear paths for career advancement and include any necessary skills training.

What you can do – community involvement

Employers can contribute to Indigenous communities and create a more inclusive workplace by fostering a culture of respect, understanding, and collaboration.

Collaborating and consulting with Indigenous communities is essential before moving forward with policies, programs, or projects. Involving them in the decision-making process shows respect for their knowledge and rights.

Supporting Indigenous communities through corporate social responsibility initiatives—volunteering, providing resources, collaborating on community projects, etc.—establishes a relationship of trust. Transparent communication and taking accountability for actions and decisions related to Indigenous engagement are also crucial components.

Organizations need to recognize and respect the value of traditional Indigenous knowledge and practices and seek regular feedback from Indigenous employees and communities to improve their efforts and adapt to changing needs.

“… The deep relationships and partnerships with Indigenous-owned business and communities across Canada play an integral role in the success of our industry. … A strong natural gas and oil industry offers significant opportunities for employment and business development to Indigenous communities, providing pathways to greater prosperity while supporting the Canadian government’s goals for reconciliation.”

Tim McMillan, Former President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)

Continuous learning and education on Indigenous relationships is required to create long-lasting impacts on personal and organizational levels. Employers are recommended to access free online courses to explore the different histories and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples living in Canada:

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