Aboriginal employment has lagged the rest of the province, and issue protesters brought to the Saskatchewan Legislature this week. CBC

While aboriginal employment has long lagged in Saskatchewan as a whole, the good news is there is a "role-model effect" that kicks in when First Nations and Métis people get back into the workforce, a Saskatoon economist says.

According to the University of Saskatchewan's Eric Howe, the employment rate of aboriginal people in August — 60.3 per cent of those 15 and over — was the highest since 2004, when the statistics first started to be tracked.

Only five months earlier, the aboriginal employment rate for March was at its lowest level in at least five years — 49.5 per cent.

Howe credits the improvement to what he calls the "role model-effect."

According to the theory, the increase in a newly-hired employee's standard of living is noticed by his friends and acquaintances. They're then spurred to find jobs themselves.

At the same time, businesses trying to hire aboriginal employees find their strategy is working and are keen to repeat their success, Howe said.

The bottom line is that when one aboriginal person is hired, it leads to the hiring of an additional 1.5 aboriginal people, Howe said.

The employment rate for aboriginal people was 60.3 per cent this August, compared to 52.9 per cent in August 2004.

Howe said despite the good news the problem is far from solved. There are still fewer aboriginal people employed than the provincial average. 

The August employment rate for non-aboriginal people was 67.1 per cent this year and 66.6 per cent in 2004.