BRANDON SUN ILLUSTRATIONS
Statistics Canada data shows how aboriginal employment rates rise with education.
Whether aboriginal Canadians face barriers obtaining post-secondary education and employment is a question being brought to the forefront by some newly released data.
Data shows how aboriginal employment rates compare across different industries. There are also significant differences in on- and off-reserve employment. (BRANDON SUN ILLUSTRATIONS)
Statistics Canada data shows how aboriginal employees tend to earn less than non-aboriginals, although education can dramatically reduce the difference. (BRANDON SUN ILLUSTRATIONS)
Data released earlier this month from the 2011 National Household Survey indicates that labour market and income gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples in Canada continue to persist.
"Higher education is a critical tool in addressing these worrying outcomes, but post-secondary education is still not a reality for many within aboriginal communities," reads a report released by TD Economics.
The report suggests the number of aboriginal Canadians obtaining a post-secondary education is still low and little progress is being made to close that gap. In 2011, 38.1 per cent of aboriginals had some type of post-secondary education, compared with 54.9 per cent of non-aboriginals. Conversely, more than 60 per cent of aboriginals have a high school diploma or less.
Income data also suggests an earnings gap between the two groups and shows that higher education translates into higher income levels and better labour market outcomes.
Aboriginals with diplomas or degrees are also heavily overrepresented in public sector industries, including educational services, health care and public administration. Nearly two-thirds of aboriginals with a university level education are employed in these three sectors, compared to 42 per cent for non-aboriginals. And the figure rises to 85 per cent for those living on reserves.
Overrepresentation in these industries could point to some of the barriers aboriginals face when seeking employment in the broader labour market, according to Francis Fong, economist and lead author of the report.
"Aboriginal peoples are one of the fastest-growing segments of our population," Fong said. "In the next few decades we are going to see a slowdown in labour force growth as a lot of baby boomers are retiring and leaving the work force.
"Aboriginal people represent a very significant untaped portion of our labour source but they face significant barriers. Living in remote areas of the country doesn’t really help pursuing post-secondary education, providing good or a wide range of employment opportunities."
The report is also one of the first times employment and education among the aboriginal population has been looked at this closely. Some findings were "disappointing," Fong said.
"It’s been five or six censuses now where we’ve been sort of looking at aboriginal people," he said. "Progress is being made but it’s much slower than you would hope, so that’s sort of an issue that we found was disappointing."
Progress has been stalled since 2006, which indicates that there could be multiple barriers that aboriginal peoples are facing both obtaining post-secondary education and finding employment opportunities.
"We are seeing more aboriginal peoples with post-secondary education than we have in the past, which is a good thing, but what we’re seeing is even at that level of education, there’s a high concentration in several fields which are mostly related to the public sector," Fong said.
Although the data doesn’t suggest what the barriers could be, examples are students not receiving proper training in certain areas or discrimination in the workplace, Fong said.
The statistics presented in the report are for aboriginal Canadians but there are limitations to the NHS. There were 36 reserves out of 863 which were incompletely enumerated, according to Statistics Canada.
"While the impact of these omissions will be small for aggregate statistics, it is most noticeable for First Nations people and for persons registered under the Indian Act," reads a statement included in the report.
Although segments on aboriginal peoples have been part of the NHS since the early 1990s, post-secondary education trends is "an important thing to talk about."
"We’ve written reports in the past for underrepresented groups and a number of reports on aboriginal peoples in the past, actually quite a number this year, and there’s a whole bunch of reasons for doing so," Fong said. "They face a lot of barriers and it’s important to highlight what those barriers are and if anything can be done."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 15, 2013