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Insights How Canada can use Indigenous partnerships to engage the labour force

The latest Census of Population in Canada showed there were over 1.6 million individuals – approximately 5% of the population - who self-identified as Indigenous people. This comprises mainly First Nations people but also includes Métis and Inuit. Throughout history, Indigenous people in Canada have lived and worked separately from non-Indigenous people, but several industries are working with the Canadian government to change this. Determined to create more opportunities where the nation can work together, Prime Minister Trudeau stated, “No relationship is more important to me and Canada than the relationship with Indigenous people”.
The government’s decision to review all federal laws that affect Indigenous people was made both to endorse the positive wellbeing of this ethnic group and to highlight that Indigenous have a vital role to play in the economy. If businesses and policymakers make a combined effort to establish Indigenous partnerships, they can engage the wider labour force and create purposeful strategies that align with their overall corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies.
image of a teepee tent

Why companies must fight to make a business case for inclusion

Indigenous people have a rich history, lessons from which will have been passed down through the generations. Their knowledge of Canadian land and environmental stewardship, coupled with their unique skills, all combine to form their cultural intelligence. Cultural diversity accepts that individuals from different groups – like Indigenous people – will all contribute in their own way to a community or company.
47% of Canadian employees aged 18 to 34 agree they would be more loyal to their companies if they adopted a public stance on diversity and inclusion (D&I). This explains how creating a diverse workforce has slowly shifted from being the right thing to do, to now also being the smart thing to do. By actively building partnerships with Indigenous communities, companies can diversify their workforce and tap into new skill sets, approaches and perspectives. 

Cities and development

For many years, the construction industry has been building relationships with Indigenous people by hiring them, buying goods and services from Indigenous businesses, and investing in their Indigenous communities. Though the figures vary across provinces, the proportion of Indigenous people in the construction industry is higher than the overall proportion living in Canada, and in Manitoba, it’s even as high as 16%. These figures are promising but there is more that can be done.
The government announced an Investing in Canada plan which will see $180 billion invested over 12 years, earmarked particularly for sustainable infrastructure. When mobilizing a team of people to help deliver these sustainable plans, businesses have the chance to build a more diverse workforce. The construction industry already employs more Indigenous than a lot of other sectors, but to create an inclusive environment businesses need to think about how they can encourage Indigenous people to apply for more senior roles within the cities and development market, like a project manager. One place to begin is by understanding Indigenous leadership and community aspirations.


Canada is the second largest country in the world, meaning that the nation relies on an extensive transport network to connect everything from the large metropolitan areas to the small rural regions. Roads and highways are an important part of this network and not only do new projects spring up each year, but the existing infrastructure requires regular maintenance. To date, Infrastructure Canada has supported the building and repair of 6,500 highway and expressway projects, and the building doesn’t stop there.
As with cities and development, Canada’s transportation job market has the opportunity to diversify its teams for upcoming projects in the designing and building of railways, bridges, tunnels, ports and airports. Building Indigenous partnerships to staff these teams and fill transportation jobs may help the nation unlock the answers to some of the most pressing sustainability issues and help to embed sustainability in infrastructure design. Hiring Indigenous people who are local and already living in the area can be less costly, and more importantly, it can lead to a higher retention rate, which is good both for the business and the individual.

Inspired by innovations that are connecting Canada? Find out about the Canada Line taking transportation into the future. 

Minerals and metallurgy

Indigenous people account for around 7.5% of Canada’s mining workforce, which is considerably higher than the 3.9% average across all industries. This is, in part, because many minerals and metallurgy projects are based in the more remote areas in Canada, nearer to reserves and traditional territory. Location is on the side of mining companies that are actively trying to engage with Indigenous people, but there are other influencing factors.  
Mining equipment has changed a lot over the years and since it can now be operated from the surface, remotely and autonomously, this has helped to diversify the workforce. However, with the introduction of more specialized equipment comes the need for people who have a more specialized skill set. Recent statistics show that 33.8% of Indigenous people employed in Canada could face losing their job due to automation. This is an early warning sign that mining businesses must think about how they future-proof their Indigenous workforce.

What needs to be done?

The Canadian Construction Association published an Indigenous Engagement Guide. This is a guide for all industries, to help them understand that Indigenous partnerships must first start with engagement before relationship building can happen. It signals an effort to change and better the relationship between Indigenous people and Canadian companies. Programmes like the Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) are also making headway by awarding certificates to businesses who show a ‘commitment to prosperity’ within Aboriginal, or Indigenous, communities. Initiatives like these show businesses the importance of establishing Indigenous partnerships and engaging the wider labour force.

Leading the change we want to see in Canada

At AtkinsRéalis , we believe in initiating conversations around how to encourage diversity in civil engineering and our other markets. Equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of everything that we do and though we acknowledge that we’re not perfect, we believe that our commitment is second to none.
Being a global business, with over 50,000 people in over 50 countries, we’re aware that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to advancing D&I. Our North America region is working on solving some of the most complex engineering problems, but to do that we need to encourage a mix of cultures and ideas. AtkinsRéalis is dedicated to establishing and maintaining mutually respectful and meaningful relationships between Indigenous communities in Canada and the US and we have recently committed to the PAR program. We recognize that it is our responsibility as a business to make STEM degrees more accessible to minority students.
Find out more about our D&I in North America.