From cook to electrician: how indigenous youth are recovering from the pandemic | The Canadian News

Carissa Menz, 27, loved being a cook. Working for restaurants throughout Vancouver, she would put her “heart and soul” into it, she says.

But after being on a temporary layoff for months in the COVID-19 pandemic and then working reduced hours for a little longer, he needed a change.

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Today, Menz, who is a member of Pasqua First Nation in Saskatchewan, is training to become an electrician, thanks to a fully funded opportunity he found through the Aboriginal Community Career Employment Services Society (ACCESS). The job is physically demanding, she says, but that doesn’t seem to faze her.

“I get stronger every day,” he jokes.

Menz, who was just hired as an apprentice at Western Pacific Enterprises after some training and preliminary on-the-job experience, says her salary has already risen from about $ 16 an hour to about $ 18 an hour.

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In six months, he says, he’ll get another raise of about $ 20 an hour, the level of pay that it had taken him 10 years to reach in the restaurant industry.

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Indigenous youth are ‘a vital influx’ to Canada’s economy

Canada’s indigenous peoples, who were more likely to be employed in low-paying jobs in the service sector, have been disproportionately affected by pandemic layoffs, according to Statistics Canada.

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But as economic growth accelerates in the recovery, that landscape is changing.

In Stony Plain, Alta., Jordan Jolicoeur, president and CEO of Carvel Electric, says his company, a family business with Métis roots, was not only able to retain all of its workers during the pandemic, but is now hiring.

And with the labor shortage in skilled trades exacerbated by the retirement of older workers, the company, where 80 percent of the staff is indigenous, is ready to take hiring with little experience and “groom” them, says Jolicoeur.

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Across the economy, employment rates for both indigenous women and men have returned to pre-pandemic levels. By comparison, the employment of non-Indigenous Canadians has yet to recover to pre-COVID levels, although the employment rates of Indigenous populations have historically been and remain lower than those of non-Indigenous people, according to Statistics Canada.

Still, growing four times faster than Canada’s non-indigenous population, indigenous youth represent a “vital influx of entrepreneurs, innovators, managers and business owners” to Canada’s economy, a recent report Red blood cell report indicated. Over the next decade, 750,000 indigenous youth will graduate from school and begin their careers, the bank estimates.

However, there are obstacles.

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One of them is extremely slow internet. A staggering 75% of households in First Nations communities do not have access to high-speed internet, the report notes.

And that’s not just a problem in rural and remote areas, says Tabatha Bull, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB). When Bull visits his parents at Nipissing First Nation, just a 10-minute drive from North Bay, Ontario, for example, he can barely have a virtual conversation with the camera on.

That’s a key obstacle to remote working and a major choke point for many companies, which have become much more reliant on e-commerce and digital channels to reach customers during the pandemic.

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Delivering on the federal government’s commitment to providing high speed to all Canadians by 2030 will be key to ensuring that indigenous youth are equipped to realize their economic potential, RBC said.

“We met young people who were thriving in their businesses on YouTube and TikTok doing all kinds of really exciting things. But they need those tools, that infrastructure to stay in their communities and connect with the world, ”John Stackhouse, senior vice president of the RBC CEO’s office, told Global News speaking about the bank’s investigation.

Another key promise from Ottawa is a requirement that federal departments and agencies ensure that a minimum of five percent of the total value of government procurement contracts goes to indigenous companies, Bull says.

While the idea of ​​a five percent procurement mandate is not new, the fact that the federal government has recently re-engaged is a step in the right direction, he adds.

To achieve that goal, CCAB has asked Ottawa to establish a government-wide strategy with “some tangible commitments to ensure that all federal organizations have that five percent requirement and are reporting and measuring that,” says Bull. .

There are also many things that the government should do when it comes to education.

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Only 45 percent of Indigenous people between the ages of 24 and 35 have a post-secondary education, compared to 71 percent of non-Indigenous Canadians, according to RBC research. The report recommends expanding academic bridge programs at universities, colleges, and apprenticeships.

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An academic bridge program was the first step on Menz’s path to becoming an electrician. Through ACCESS, she had the math review. The program had no cost plus transportation costs and a meal allowance.

The program Menz enrolled in, called Pathways to Electrical, gives Indigenous students the skills they need to enter a first-year apprenticeship as electricians. The program pays for tuition costs, provides materials and supplies, a living allowance, and necessary tutoring.

Now that she is a freshly minted apprentice, Menz has five more years before she became a journalist. As an electrician, you can earn up to $ 39 an hour in British Columbia, according to salary data from the Canada Job Bank.

Menz says he has not yet decided whether he would like to start on his own or work for an electrical employer. But the future looks bright, he adds.

“I want to spend more time with my family and friends and I want to earn more money. I want to buy a house one day, ”he says.

“I have my dog,” he adds, laughing. “I need a backyard for him.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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