Three Fires Collaborative Quest seeks to ease labour shortage in the province

TORONTO – A new collaborative partnership between Indigenous Tourism Ontario (ITO) and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario’s (TIAO’s) Ontario Tourism Education Corporation is aimed at harnessing the untapped strength of Ontario’s Indigenous workforce to help ease the labour crunch being experienced by the province’s tourist operators.

ITO CEO Kevin Eshkawkogan chatted with The Expositor about the new initiative and what it means for Northern Ontario tourism operations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Mr. Eshkawkogan explained that OTEC is a not-for-profit organization that delivers “award-winning skills training, consulting, research and insight aimed at guiding workforce strategy and evidence-based investment for a wide variety of industries, business and destinations.”

The new program, launched at the recent ITO Summit, is titled ‘A Three Fires Collaborative Quest’ and will take place in three phases.

The first phase, beginning this fall, will see Indigenous tourism businesses receiving one-on-one coaching and support from ITO’s Indigenous Business Advisory (IBA) Program to assist in getting their operations market ready for the reopening after COVID restrictions have subsided. The structured content will be delivered to participants of the IBA program to address all areas of a tourism operation required for business sustainability and success and will follow market-ready standards established specifically for the Indigenous tourism industry.

Phase two, or Fire Two as it is known, will also begin this fall. Managed by OTEC, which will also design and execute workshops, is aimed at providing customized front-line training for 100-plus Indigenous tourism employees as well as those identified through the IBA.

The final phase, or third fire, will take place this winter. Executed by TIAO, the third fire is an employee-to-employer matching event designed to bridge the gap between the other two fires by helping Indigenous tourism employees find employers, and conversely, tourism businesses (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) find employees.

“To be eligible for the program as a potential employee, you must identify as Indigenous,” explained Mr. Eshkawkogan. “After being accepted into the program, beginning in the fall, the employee will have the opportunity to participate in front-line training workshops facilitated by OTEC. These workshops are suitable for potential employees, whether you are just starting in the tourism industry or if you have experience but are seeking a new position within the industry.”

After completing the training program, the employee will be invited to participate in the employee-to-employer matching event, taking place during the winter of 2021.”

The program will be hosted virtually, noted Mr. Eshkawkogan; “our online platform will allow you to schedule video interviews with potential employers and vice-versa in order to provide you the opportunity to secure employment in 2022.”

Applications for the program can be found at

For employers, ‘A Three Fires Collaborative Quest’ is designed to build capacity in the tourism workforce for the 2022 season and employees will be applying for positions for 2022. 

Mr. Eshkawkogan said that to apply for the program as an employer, a business must be involved in tourism in Ontario and be willing to support their new employee’s training and development in collaboration with the program. Potential employees will begin their front-line training this fall, 2021. Tourism businesses do not have to be Indigenous to benefit from the program.

Employers will be invited to participate in the employee-to-employer matching event taking place in Winter 2021. Hosted virtually, TIAO’s online platform will allow employers to schedule online interviews with potential employees and vice-versa. Employers will be able to interview the potential employees for their business’ eligible positions in 2022.    

“As an additional benefit, upon completion of the program, tourism employers will be eligible to receive a wage subsidy of up to 30 percent to a maximum of $3,000 per employee hired,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan. “It’s really a win-win proposition for everyone.”

Potential employers are urged to apply online at


“The program really created a lot of buzz over the two days of the tourism summit,” said Mr. Eshkawkogan. “This could really prove to be a game-changer for businesses in Northern Ontario.”