During the pandemic, as business leaders, we were often planning only for the short-term. With health restrictions, supply chains and labour markets sometimes shifting overnight, staying nimble and adaptive was key.
As businesses and organizations across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region ease back to the office, there are unprecedented opportunities to reshape our workforces for the future, and for the better. It’s an opportunity to create work cultures that embrace diverse ideas and experiences. In Alberta, the case to increase opportunities for Indigenous people in the workforce is particularly compelling.
Edmonton has the second-largest urban Indigenous population in Canada and our province has one of the fastest-growing Indigenous populations. Statistics Canada has forecasted that as many as 526,000 Indigenous people will live in Alberta by 2041. Nationally, Statistics Canada reports that almost half (46 per cent) of the Indigenous population is age 24 and under. Over the next decade, an estimated 400,000 Indigenous youth will enter the workforce.
At the same time, we are seeing vacancies across several industries across Alberta: health care, education, energy production, science and technology. These sectors need people but they also need diverse perspectives and lived experiences to drive forward innovation.
Closing the education and labour market gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians would result in GDP growth of $27.7 billion annually, according to a study by the National Aboriginal Economic Development Board. It will also help address the current and anticipated labour shortages driven by the retirement of the baby-boomer generation.
June is National Indigenous History Month, making it the perfect opportunity for business leaders across the region to consider how they are working reconciliation into their own business plans.
At the University of Alberta, we are working to take up the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, acknowledging the spirit of cooperation outlined in the treaty agreements. There is a unique opportunity to enact the Calls to Action as they touch on every aspect of the university mandate in teaching, learning, research and community engagement. Reconciliation starts with work across these spaces, asking key questions and looking at the history, policies and practices that shape our current reality.
This month, the university will release the first Indigenous Strategic Plan to guide the university’s work across these areas. The plan is led by the Indigenous Programming and Research Portfolio, as an institutional collaboration and communication tool to guide the work of incorporating Indigenous worldviews and perspectives into all of our subjects and research activities.
The plan will also help us to address the structural causes of the long-standing and pronounced inequalities faced by Indigenous peoples. The goal is to achieve this by increasing Indigenous representation across professions, in leadership and by improving equity, diversity and inclusion practices in recruitment and retention of Indigenous students, faculty and staff.
These developments are a small part of the wide-ranging efforts undertaken to build a university that ensures that all students can attain their educational and professional goals and that we all live in a more just world.
This is important work. It’s also hard work. Reconciliation is a necessary step towards reducing barriers to the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in all facets of life across the Edmonton region, including business. Reconciliation will be a long journey we take together. It is my hope that we can share the lessons we learn to ensure a prosperous future for everyone.