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The Aboriginal Advantage

There is no mistaking the fact that Aboriginal Canadians represent an important pool of future workers. Figures from the 2006 Census make that clear.


There is no mistaking the fact that Aboriginal Canadians represent an important pool of future workers. Figures from the 2006 Census make that clear.

More than 1.17 million people identify themselves as First Nations, Metis or Inuit, and at a time when the trucking industry faces the reality of an aging workforce, almost half of all Aboriginal people are under the age of 24.

“A large increase within the Aboriginal working age population will occur in the next decade,” researchers concluded when completing the Essential Skills Needs Assessment of the Canadian Trucking Industry on behalf of the Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council. “Over the next two decades, other segments of the Aboriginal adult population are expected to increase significantly, particularly those aged 35 to 54 who comprise the majority of the working age population.”

While Aboriginal people are underrepresented in today’s trucking industry, successful partnerships do exist. Northern Resource Trucking offers a good example. The partnership between Trimac Transportation and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band was originally founded in 1986 to expand Aboriginal participation in northern Saskatchewan’s mining industry. That partnership has since reached out to 12 groups including Metis, Dene and Woodland Cree.

Like any other demographic group, there are cultural considerations when reaching out to Aboriginal communities.

“In Saskatchewan, where I have most of my experience, people are reluctant to leave their home communities. They have a vast social network in their home community and a strong connection to the land,” says Dave McIlmoyl, vice-president of Northern Resources Trucking. Some of the drivers from more remote rural communities had to learn how to cope with the shift to an urban setting like Saskatoon, where they immediately became a visible minority.

There is no avoiding some of the realities of the business. “Trucking is a difficult job. You’re alone most of the time and we travel in very isolated conditions,” he says. “When you leave here, you’re pretty much on your own until you get to the mine.” But some of the isolation was addressed by planning routes so that workers could travel through home communities, or even reset their Hours-of-Service once they got there.

The use of mentors within the fleet also gave new recruits the chance to discuss challenges of every sort.

Hiring fleets may also need to address the challenges that can exist around a candidate’s essential skills. About one in four Aboriginal people list an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue. “There are significant learning needs among Aboriginal people in urban and remote settings in the key essential skills of reading text, document use and numeracy,” notes research by the CTHRC. Successful training programs will also account for cultural differences such as the tradition of oral communication.

The commitment to reaching out to this pool of workers continues across the country. In the Atlantic provinces, a recently introduced program known as Building the Road to Aboriginal Workforce Partnerships will introduce 10 Aboriginal candidates to jobs in the trucking industry, along with 14 of their peers who will find opportunities in construction. Carriers including Armour Transportation Systems, Eassons Transport, Clarke Road Transport and King Freight have all contributed their support.

“In terms of building relationships with the community itself, it’s also important,” says Kelly Henderson of the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council Atlantic. “What makes this project unique is [that] we have industry employers, private training schools and the Council working together to ensure the candidates receive the best employment opportunities and have the chance to participate in industry standard training.”

“It has been our experience that APTEC clients bring good work ethics and dedication to their new career,” she adds, referring to Aboriginal Peoples Training and Employment Commission, the employment and training division of the Native Council of Nova Scotia. “The Council has developed strategies in the past to recruit Aboriginal People to the industry. We have an Atlantic [Memorandum of Understanding] with the Department of Indian Affairs -Aboriginal Workplace Partnerships -which demonstrates industry is committed to Aboriginal Peoples’ inclusion in our workforce.”

The Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council (CTHRC) is an incorporated not-for-profit organization that helps attract, train and retain workers for Canada’s trucking industry. For more information, visit www.cthrc.com.


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