Career paths for aboriginal youth

Youth leaders and award-winning artists Monique Aura, Isaac Weber and Chief Lady Bird (Nancy King) visit The Expositor offices in Little Current to talk about an innovative aboriginal job fair they are promoting amongst youth. photo by Michael Erskine

Attempts to close hiring gap for First Nations

TORONTO— An innovative partnership between Birch Hill Equity Partners and The Princess Charities is hoping to provide aboriginal youth with an opportunity to connect with business leaders and career counselling through an Aboriginal Job Seeker Career Market at Toronto’s Cathedral Centre on Thursday, October 8.

Three youth leaders dropped by The Expositor offices last week during a tour of Northern reserves and Native Friendship centres to get out the message.

“The objectives of the career event are to move job seekers, who are distant from the labour market, to become job ready, and to ultimately close the gap between business and the aboriginal community,” noted Isaac Weber, a youth leader and award-winning artist who, along with fellow artists Monique Aura and Chief Lady Bird (“Nancy King is my colonial name”), has been travelling throughout the North visiting communities and explaining how the program works. “We are endeavouring to link qualified aboriginal candidates with the job opportunities available within our participating companies.”

Recognizing that transportation is a significant barrier to aboriginal youth seeking job opportunities and careers, the Aboriginal Job Seeker Career Market will be providing transportation to the daylong career fair by bus for the October 8 event.

“This is a unique job fair, as it will provide a comfortable setting for aboriginal job seekers to engage with a variety of companies that have made a strong effort to understand their rich culture and history,” noted Mr. Weber. “We will help implement an infrastructure to ensure that each company is able to follow-up with qualified job candidates that the participating youth meet on the day.”

Mr. Weber and his compatriots have been delivering a successful life skills program through the arts. “I met Nancy (Chief Lady Bird is her preferred appellation) in school, we both attended OCAT,” said Mr. Weber, who explained that the life skills program they were working with was chosen as a vehicle for delivering the program due to the consistent success they have had in delivering services to youth in the Greater Toronto Area.

As part of the expansion of the program out of the GTA, the group is looking to transport 300 youth to the job market in Toronto.

“This is a very different kind of job fair,” noted Ms. Aura, pointing out that the program is built upon the principles of the medicine wheel and that the organizers are seeking to build a more traditional and cultural base for the program. Another difference is found in the qualification. “This program is for everyone, regardless of their level of job readiness,” she said.

Although the program is seeking aboriginal youth aged 15 to 30, they are not limiting the applicants strictly to those parameters, noted Chief Lady Bird. “They can be a little younger.”

The organizers are still working on the details of the transportation, but there will be chaperones available for the trip.

A key element in the program is that “Our Children’s Medicine is a business-led aboriginal employment initiative operated in conjunction with Birch Hill Equity Partners (BHEP) and Prince’s Charities Canada (PCC),” noted Mr. Weber. “Our initiative is designed to encourage business to assess their current hiring practices and challenge them to encourage a diverse and inclusive Canadian workforce.”

Princess Charities has already held two networking events in Toronto, engaging over 250 aboriginal job seekers and three dozen companies. “Over 30 job-seekers have found employment with our business partners,” pointed out Mr. Weber.

The project is part of a business-led reconciliation initiative. “We believe that reconciliation is a two-way street,” noted the organization’s website. “It is just as important for a company to understand the aboriginal community as it is for a job-seeker to understand the company.”

The benefits of the program for business are cultural training and awareness from the top down in the company where CEOs have an opportunity to “learn the rich history of the indigenous community.”

Facilitated aboriginal agency introductions are an entry point for learning and community engagement.

Exclusive and original events hosted by Birch Hill Equity Partners and Prince’s Charities Canada are designed to connect business with indigenous community job seekers and businesses.

“There are not only companies at this job fair,” said Ms. Aura, “there will also be a lot of CEOs and company leaders taking part in the event.”

The Aboriginal Job Seeker Career Market will provide participants who don’t yet know what kind of career they want to pursue through one-on-one discussions and goals assessment with employment councillors, HR reps and business CEOs, noted Chief Lady Bird.

There will also be education resources (diploma/GED/post-secondary), elders on hand for consultation (each participant will be initially greeted by an elder), a guide to child-care, public transit, housing supports and agency programs, access to a clothing allowance, mock interviews and access to career mentors.

Applicants can register by visiting www.aboriginal-ocm.org or by emailing jobs@aboriginal-ocm.org.