Labour shortage: How Sask’s Indigenous community holds the key to the province’s worker scarcity

For years, Saskatchewan’s economy has been growing at a phenomenal rate. It has led all provinces in GDP increases, something that has translated into very positive changes for Saskatchewan as a whole. That also comes with some very real issues.

Several key sectors in the province are suffering from a sustained labour shortage. The impact from this can be felt particularly in rural areas, though urban centres such as Saskatoon and Regina are not immune. There may be an in-province solution just waiting to be utilized.

Approximately 16 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population is Indigenous. The First Nations unemployment rate is 17 per cent, an incredibly disproportionate rate relative to the population size.

As such, the most obvious solution to Saskatchewan’s worker shortage is to engage that same First Nations population more effectively in all sectors. But that is a solution that has several challenges, some that may not be obvious.

Ron Hyggen, CEO of Kitsaki Management, was quick to point out that employment among the province’s off-reserve Indigenous population has increased drastically over the years. The problems facing First Nations people living on-reserve must be addressed. He said, “Despite the encouraging progress in off-reserve employment, the reality remains stark for those residing on reserves. Several key factors contribute to this disparity, including challenges related to job readiness and geographical limitations.”

On-reserve Indigenous populations still face significant obstacles when trying to enter the workforce. Location, education, and access to opportunities are a huge part of that. Abating them will not be easy, but it can be done according to Hyggen. “Work could progress by using a systematic approach in identifying, defining, and building solutions to address each barrier.  This would be best done collaboratively between government, industry, and the province’s First Nations.”

Where that focus should be placed is as important as how to achieve these goals. There are numerous sectors in the province that would benefit greatly from more Indigenous employees.

Shaun Howdle, CEO of STC Industrial, believes that First Nations peoples will thrive in any sector. “The Indigenous workforce includes doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, business executives, tradespeople, IT specialists, and every other career that is out there. There are amazing recruitment opportunities for all sectors within the Indigenous population if those sectors put in great effort to engage and support students and potential candidates.”

While the mining and energy sectors have already been recognized as having great opportunities for Indigenous peoples, the emerging tech sector also has huge possibilities.

Hyggen sees the tech sector as having the biggest potential for a mutually beneficial relationship. “…this industry is uniquely built for those that are not necessarily in large urban centers and eliminates some of the barriers I mentioned earlier like finding suitable transportation or housing.”

Additionally, First Nations are underrepresented in the tech sector, one that is continually growing in Saskatchewan.

Any future potential can only be realized by engaging and supporting the province’s Indigenous population. Hyggen made a key point about that future. “The Indigenous population is considerably younger than the non-Indigenous population in the province (29.6 years of age versus 41.3 years of age).”

Ron made their future impact quite clear. “They are also of the age where the proper investment in skill building can significantly impact their career choices and therefore have a positive impact on the province’s economy.”

This push must start somewhere, and Shaun Howdle has a clear vision of where that could begin, “…when it comes responding to the labour shortage and removing barriers to employment for an Indigenous workforce, I really feel our business sector has an amazing opportunity to be that leader.”