Hiring and Retaining Aboriginal Apprentices: An Action Plan for Employers

Hiring Indigenous apprentices today ensures a company will have a future workforce composed of skilled Indigenous workers and have strong business relationships with Indigenous communities. This guide by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum provides Canadian employers in the mining, oil and gas, shipbuilding, construction and transportation sectors with strategies and information on supports for the successful recruitment and retention of Indigenous apprentices.

The report begins by making the business case to employers for hiring Indigenous apprentices, noting that Indigenous peoples are a fast growing labour pool. They cite the following advantages to employers of doing so:

  • Ability to address skill shortages in the face of looming retirements;
  • For those operating in Indigenous peoples’ land close to development sites, access to a workforce that is acclimatized to local conditions and that is not costly to transport to the worksite; and
  • Improvement in the company’s reputation in the community, which can enhance business with Indigenous consumers and lead to further contracts with Indigenous companies.

The authors recommend that employers seeking greater Indigenous inclusivity consider the following practices:

  • Build long-term relationships with Indigenous partners and make Indigenous initiatives a priority by establishing internal support from both senior company leaders and front-line staff.
  • Increase awareness of and desire for skilled trades careers, by presenting the benefits and process of becoming an apprentice to students when visiting high schools and to adults when visiting communities.
  • Actively recruit candidates in various ways, such as by attending job fairs and community events, creating and posting targeted job ads, making announcements on local radio stations, offering individuals opportunities to be labourers before pursuing apprenticeship, and formalizing contracting commitments to Indigenous peoples.
  • Set out expectations to newly hired Indigenous apprentices and tradespeople by establishing clear rules in employment contracts.
  • Prepare candidates for success by assessing candidates’ skills and implementing aptitude tests, by making training easily accessible onsite, by ensuring that support for training is structured and builds on required skills, and by linking apprenticeship and Indigenous learning principles at the workplace.
  • Facilitate effective workplace communication by such means as ensuring employees have a chance to voice concerns; being upfront about rules and being flexible with departures and absences for cultural and family reasons; hiring an onsite Indigenous liaison coordinator and job coach; and sensitizing supervisors and journey-persons to Indigenous cultural issues.
  • Support mentoring and positive role model relationships by, among other means, hiring Indigenous elders and connecting strong Indigenous employees with new recruits.
  • Reward achievement by such means as providing bonuses for employees reaching specific thresholds in training hours, and reimbursing costs associated with apprenticeship.

The report concludes with a list of supports that can facilitate the recruitment and retention of Indigenous apprentices. These include provision of: provincial and territorial government apprenticeship administrators who can guide employers in the registration process and in documenting apprentice skills and hours; financial supports such as tax credits and wage subsidies (for a complete list, see the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum’s Skilled Trades Network); and a list of resources provided by Indigenous organizations that could contribute to the hiring and success of Indigenous apprentices.

This report will be useful particularly to employers, but also practitioners, who are interested in increasing the representation of Indigenous peoples in the workforce.