Indigenous initiative

by Derek Clouthier

WINNIPEG, Man. — North America’s largest inland port is hoping to pave the way for more Indigenous workers to enter the industry.

Winnipeg’s CentrePort Canada was recently part of the creation of the Southern Chief’s Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC), which will focus on the pursuit of economic reconciliation in developing and maintaining strategic partnerships to create employment and training opportunities for Indigenous workers on a full-time and contract basis.

SCEDC was created following a resolution at the Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO) Chiefs’ Summit, with the SCO entering into a joint venture agreement with Working Warriors, which is building a national skills inventory and database of the Indigenous workforce to help the future potential of First Nation communities.

Diane Gray, president and CEO of CentrePort, said she constantly hears from trucking companies operating at the port that recruitment is one of the biggest challenges they face at CentrePort given the shortage of drivers in Manitoba and the aging population of the existing workforce.

“Trucking companies have been focusing on diversifying their employment base, whether that’s trying to engage more women, newcomers to Canada, or indigenous populations,” said Gray. “It has been expressed to us that since Indigenous people are the fastest growing population in the province, it presents huge opportunity for recruiting new drivers – it’s largely an untapped resource at this time, which is why we’ve seen so much interest from the trucking industry in Working Warriors.”

Gray said there is also a social movement occurring right now that encourages trucking companies to provide employment opportunities for Indigenous workers.

She pointed to a recent focus from the Manitoba Trucking Association (MTA) on fostering diversity in the workforce, and how such efforts will help bolster recruitment of such groups now and into the future.

Jamie Saulnier, president of Working Warriors, said over the past decade there have been trailblazers who have developed effective strategies to connect employers with Indigenous communities.

“By listening to and learning of the challenges faced by all parties, we have designed a comprehensive inclusion tool for Indigenous peoples,” Saulnier said. “We look forward to sharing our program and working with all SCO communities. The opportunities we provide Indigenous peoples today will shape our workforce for tomorrow.”

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said the creation of the SCEDC will help his people gain meaningful training and employment opportunities.

“However, it is also an opportunity for us to participate as full equal partners in private enterprise across the province,” said Daniels. “It is an opportunity for our youth to rise out of the turmoil of living in poverty and into prosperity. My message is clear, the south is open for business. The creation of SCEDC is the first step to taking back economic sovereignty for our people.”

CentrePort commits itself to providing a platform for companies at the port to establish diverse, reliable, and a stable workforce.

“In addition to our partnerships with post-secondary institutions and industry associations, CentrePort has signed the Indigenous Accord; a living document to guide a shared commitment to the Journey of Reconciliation,” said Gray. “As part of our participation to the Accord, we’ve committed to leveraging our relationships and encouraging CentrePort companies to find new ways to engage the growing Indigenous population.”

CentrePort offers a marketing partnership program that provides companies with marketing exposure, networking events, and facilitated business introductions and referrals, and have now brought Working Warriors into the program to increase brand awareness and strengthen their relationship within the port.

“Their CentrePort location, collaborative approach and their extensive experience in the most common industries present at the inland port, such as construction, transportation, and warehousing, make Working Warriors a valuable resource for CentrePort companies,” said Gray, adding that there are 53 new companies located at the port and several more in a period of growth.

With CentrePort acting as a “match-maker” between Working Warriors and companies operating at the port, Gray feels it’s a winning formula for all involved.

“It’s a win-win scenario – generating meaningful employment opportunities for Indigenous populations, and providing companies with a strategic solution for all of their employment needs,” she said. “A great example of this system ‘in action’ is the connection CentrePort provided between Working Warriors and CN, who is now working with Working Warriors to support their national hiring strategy.”

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