State of Practice: Essential Skills Applications with First Nations, Inuit and Métis in Canada

About the study

This study examined essential skills initiatives for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis in Canada. Through a review of programs, the study addresses different approaches to learning and identifies promising practices for developing and implementing essential skills training programs for Aboriginal people.


What can be learned from this study?

• While Canada has made strides to improve essential skills for Aboriginal people since 1970, there is still a need to develop the literacy and essential skills of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis population in Canada. The study notes that more research should be done to improve First Nations, Inuit and Métis essential skills initiatives in Canada, and development of a comprehensive inventory of essential skills initiatives for Aboriginal people would be useful to service providers.

• Service providers face several challenges when delivering essential skills programs and initiatives to Aboriginal people. Some of the main challenges identified in the report are lack of support and funding for skills training; lack of cultural awareness in the workplace; limited understanding of the importance of essential skills; accessibility issue for rural communities; and lack of coordination and communication between stakeholders, such as government and Aboriginal communities, and other service providers.

• To effectively deliver literacy and essential skills programs to Aboriginal people, service providers need to understand First Nations, Inuit, and Métis learning principles. The study found that Aboriginal people considered learning to be holistic and lifelong process. Other attributes were learner-centred, spiritually-oriented, communal, and capacity-building.

• The study identifies effective practices for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis essential skills training and programs.

  • Direct involvement of First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations in developing and implementing essential skills programming.
  • Establishing partnerships between service providers, Aboriginal communities, government, and employers facilitates information and resource sharing. Greater employer involvement in essential skills programming can lead to more opportunities, such as apprenticeships and job placements, for program participants.
  • Working directly with Aboriginal communities allow service providers to develop essential skills programming and deliver training programs that meet the needs of communities.
  • Aboriginal essential skills initiatives should be learner-centred by addressing program participants’ and community needs. The program delivery should also take a holistic approach to support Aboriginal people in their essential skills development.
  • Service provider staff implementing and delivering essential skills training to Aboriginal people should understand employment issues and challenges facing Aboriginal people and be aware of cultural differences. Staff should also understand Adult and Indigenous learning principles and techniques, and Aboriginal culture and tradition to develop effective essential skills training programs for Aboriginal people.
  • Implementing an effective communication strategy is imperative to building relationship with stakeholders. In addition, on-going evaluation of essential skills programs is needed to measure program outcomes and further make adjustments.

• Making a strong business case for essential skills and literacy training in the workplace for Aboriginal people is critical in addressing Canada’s labour shortages. Aboriginal population increased 45% between 1996 and 2006 and by 2026, Aboriginal population is expected to reach five percent, which makes employer investments to literacy and essential skills training in the workplace even more important. It is believed that $984 million investment to literacy and essential skills training programs to support Aboriginal people in Canada would increase additional earnings of $2.256 billion a year.

• Higher education attainment would also yield greater socio-economic benefits for Aboriginal population. The study notes that in addition to higher income, educational attainment brings non-economic benefits such as greater sense of accomplishment.

• Employers benefit from offering literacy and essential skills training to Aboriginal people. The study found that both employers and Aboriginal employees have gained from essential skills training. In addition to financial benefits to employers, skills training improved productivity and efficiency at work, increased confidence and skill level, and further increased retention of Aboriginal employees.


What method(s) did the study use?

Qualitative research, including interviews of service providers and First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations, and literature review of Canadian sources, was conducted in 2012.