In a word, it's short
To no one’s surprise, Alberta Venture’s 2014 survey reveals that respondents feel there aren’t enough workers to go around. But interesting tidbits emerge by hacking the data, including a retail sector most positive about new Canadians filling the labour gap but least positive about the role of aboriginal peoples.
Doug Alloway, vice-president of human resources with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, agrees that, as it stands – and as the survey indicates that a majority of respondents feel as well – aboriginal peoples are not a sufficiently large contributor to bridging the labour shortage. But why? Alloway lets out a big sigh and searches for a tactful response. “I think employers have not found significant-sized groups of aboriginal workers that they feel will fit their culture and the way they would like them to do business,” he says.
Though aboriginal people are not homogenous (there are more than 600 nations and governments in Canada), they are often viewed as such by those looking for workers. Take the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, which in 2013 released a report noting that there are more than $315 billion worth of energy projects planned on or near “aboriginal territory.”
So, how to tap into that? Well, as the results demonstrate, it’s an ongoing conundrum. The challenge is one of culture and experience.
Both are vital for a new worker not only to fit but to allow his company to grow, explains Ken Unruh, CEO of Magna IV Engineering, an electrical engineering and oilfield services company in Edmonton. “If you have an aboriginal [person], if you have a new Canadian, if you have a temporary worker that can come in, and they’re electrically trained and they have the experience in the areas that we work in, absolutely,” he says. “But that doesn’t happen very often.” What does often happen, Unruh says, is that senior people must train new workers but must be given a manageable workload. “You can only bring [new workers] on at a certain rate,” he says. “You need to also have people who understand what it is that we do and can lead a team. You can’t overload those senior people with too many people that need mentorship.”