Deal will connect companies with Indigenous workforce

by Alexandra Paul

Indigenous people looking for work have a new way to connect with companies seeking workers in Manitoba.

The Southern Chiefs Organization unveiled a new economic development corporation at a joint press conference with its new business partner, Working Warriors, which has compiled a national skills inventory database.

The partnership means the database will now work to incorporate the First Nations workforce spread across southern Manitoba. 

Southern Grand Chief Jerry Daniels hailed the launch of the development corporation and its partnership with Working Warriors as an opportunity for meaningful employment and training, as well as a chance to work as equal partners in private enterprise. 

"My message is clear: the south is open for business. (This) is the first step to taking back economic sovereignty for our people," said Daniels, whose organization represents 34 First Nations. 

Working Warriors is part of a group of construction companies called Running Deer, led by entrepreneur Jamie Saulnier. 

"My main function here is to connect the Indigenous workforce here in ­Manitoba with the employers in the province," the Working Warriors president said. "We’ve always known there’s a workforce there and people are hungry to go to work and employers are hungry to hire people, but the disconnect has always been putting those two groups together." 

With reconciliation mandates at almost every level of government across Canada, companies bidding on contracts now seek out Indigenous workers. The problem is they don’t always know where to look or how to build bridges with Indigenous workforces or the communities they live in. 

Working Warriors has created a database exclusively for Indigenous skilled trades as well as job hunters seeking training for steady work. The organization provides software to communities to catalogue and inventory workforces, then connect with Working Warriors to make the corporate links. 

Working Warriors rolled out its first provincewide pilot in New Brunswick in 2016 and counts energy giants such as Enbridge among its clients.

Canadian National Rail (CN) took part in Thursday’s announcement, as the first company to tap into the new regional partnership. 

"We are physically present or ­adjacent to more than 200 First Nations, Métis communities and traditional territories, so for us this is very important. It gives us another resource tool for recruiting. CN’s business has been growing and we have a significant need for new positions. We felt this was a good fit for us," said Doug Devlin, CN’s senior manager for Aboriginal and tribal relations.

The national rail line is in middle of one of its biggest hiring sprees in years, adding 2,000 people to its national workforce over the next several months. In Winnipeg right now, CN is filling positions for 80 railway conductors. 

Fifty of those Winnipeg jobs are filled, but CN is still needs 30 more conductors. Applicants are trained on the job and the basic requirement is a high school education. 

Northern Grand Chief Sheila North said the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents 30 northern and remote First Nations, has also started talks with Working Warriors. "It is a myth there are no jobs in the north. There are. We just need to find out what they are and start matching people to them, including getting them the education to do the jobs," North said.

More news:
CBC: Online database of Indigenous workers will help fight poverty, say Manitoba chiefs