A national skills agenda for Indigenous youth will lead to a more prosperous and inclusive Canada

John Stackhouse

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the economic prospects of Indigenous youth. Canada’s fastest growing cohort of youth are being drawn into the broader economy, demonstrated through increased Indigenous ownership of resources and infrastructure, increased presence in key supply chains and new partnerships between private companies and communities. Many Indigenous youth are also confident in their foundational skills essential to succeed in the workplace, such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration. 

However, at a time when advance technologies are transforming every sector, many Indigenous youth say they lack the confidence in their digital literacy skills. Addressing the gap starts with the basics. The reality is, high-speed Internet still hasn’t come to large parts of rural and northern Canada, limiting online activity for many Indigenous Peoples.

These digital desserts limit many Indigenous Peoples from developing key skills required to succeed in the workplace. Take trade skills, which has contributed to improved incomes for many Indigenous Peoples. But on-reserve learners aren’t accessing apprenticeships at the same rate as off-reserve youth, and they often miss out on the in-class portions where emerging skills are introduced.

Narrowing this and other digital skills gaps would enable Indigenous youth to unlock a host of opportunities in the future of work and, in turn, significantly increase their earning potential according to a RBC report. Access to a meaningful career also helps foster a stronger connection to community, and builds greater confidence and optimism for the future. A national skills agenda for Indigenous youth is crucial to building a more prosperous and inclusive Canada.

What would this agenda look like? Through an 18-month consultation with Indigenous youth and leaders, educators, and employers, RBC identified a series of recommendations that might help to prepare Indigenous youth for the digital future. Fulfilling the federal commitment to provide high-speed to every Canadian by 2030, prioritizing underserviced Indigenous communities was a key priority.

Allocating additional funding for digital devices and technology courses in primary and secondary schools, both on- and off-reserve, would also be critical. As would efforts in providing Indigenous youth with more work-integrated learning experiences. These programs offer students access to real workplace experiences, with the opportunity to develop the technological and human skills necessary to succeed as well as the professional networks, which are vital in navigating the working world.

At a time when many Canadians are reflecting on our recent history, and ongoing relationship with Indigenous Peoples, our collective efforts take on a heightened meaning and importance. A national skills agenda will ensure our fastest growing youth population are provided with the skills and opportunities to participate fully in the economy, and in turn, help Canada grow sustainably well into the future.