Friday's Canadian job numbers showed unemployment remained below seven per cent, but with total employment shrinking, those without a high school education — like 60 per cent of on-reserve aboriginal young adults — have even worse luck.
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Overall the news was good. The survey included telephone conversations with 300 Ontario business owners who identified themselves as aboriginal entrepreneurs. The vast majority of businesses are small, with annual sales of less than $100,000, but they are strong and growing.
'We've been left out of the Canadian economy for a couple of hundred years' - J.P. Gladu, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
J.P. Gladu, president and chief executive of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, was heartened by the results of the survey. He says that many Canadians think of native people as a burden on taxpayers but reports like this help to demonstrate that aboriginal people are a source of economic growth.
Sarah Robertson presented the survey to a gathering of business people in the heart of Toronto's financial district.
Creating jobs for youth
But amongst the good news, Robertson revealed a troubling statistic."As they grow larger, the proportion of aboriginal employees actually declined," she said.
In other words, while small aboriginal businesses provided jobs for aboriginals, the bigger those businesses got, the fewer Métis and First Nations people they hired.
John Richards, a professor at Simon Fraser University, says there's a direct relationship between low education levels and aboriginal poverty. It's a subject he has been studying since being a Saskatchewan NDP MLA.
"You'd have to be blind not to realize that aboriginal alienation, aboriginal poverty is the most important social problem in the prairies," says Richards.
He's not surprised that even aboriginal businesses don't hire aboriginal once those businesses become larger.
"As firms get bigger they have more specialized requirements. Bookkeeping skills, secretaries, work that requires a minimum of a high school qualifications," said Richards. "It's the low level of the education ladder but it's the key level in order to get job. Whether you're Métis, First Nations or non aboriginal."
Education is key
The CCAB report, written before the latest dispute between the AFN and the Harper government over First Nations education funding, agrees that education is the key.
"One area where governments can make a significant contribution to aboriginal business is in developing programs and policies to help train and retain skilled aboriginal employees," says the report. "In addition to directly benefiting aboriginal businesses ... a skilled local labour source will also be of value to companies in the resource sector."CCAB's Gladu, who has a university degree in forestry and an MBA, uses a business analogy of liabilities and assets.
"We need to pour more resources into developing the liabilities which include lower education rates, higher unemployment rates, lower skills," he says. "Once we start to put more resources into those issues, we'll start to see an increase in the asset column as they move over."