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July 27, 2021

By Jayson Myers - When Paul Martin quit national politics he didn’t step away from the national policy scene or his interest in Indigenous education. The former prime minister founded the Martin Family Initiative, a charity that works with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Nation People to improve education, health, and well-being outcomes for Indigenous children, youth, and adults.

MFI aims to support Indigenous students as they learn how to create successful careers. Its Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program introduces Indigenous high school students to business opportunities in the Canadian economy. It teaches students how to nurture their entrepreneurial spirit, improve their financial literacy and communication skills, and gives them an opportunity to explore a variety of post-secondary options. More than 5,000 students have completed the program since its inception eleven years ago. Today the course is being taught at 50 high schools on and off reserve. It is in such high demand that in 2019 MFI, acting on a request from the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs, launched an Indigenous Entrepreneur Course for adults based on its high school program.

Indigenous education programs like these will shape the future for a very significant part of Canada’s population. While Indigenous people account for about five percent of the Canadian population, Indigenous children under the age of 14 represent seven percent of all children in the country. Youth represent nearly half of Canada’s Indigenous population. They are the youngest and fastest growing segment of Canada’s population. In Mr. Martin’s view, “If we want Canada to succeed, Indigenous children and youth must succeed…. Their potential is our future.”

What MFI is doing is also critical for Canadian manufacturers. Real labour shortages exist across Canada’s manufacturing sector. That’s nothing new, but the results of every industry survey indicate that the situation is getting worse. Skills shortages are aggravated by the deployment of advanced technologies as manufacturers are turning to automation to compensate for labour shortages. Competition is tough today for any company looking to attract employees with the combination of digital skills, practical industry experience, and essential workplace skills that it takes to run a modern manufacturing business.

That’s why Next Generation Manufacturing Canada is partnering with MFI to develop a manufacturing component in its high school and adult Indigenous education programs. NGen support will also allow MFI to expand its entrepreneurship and financial literacy courses into primary schools and set up a summer employment program for Indigenous youth. Our aim is to raise awareness among Indigenous youth about modern manufacturing in Canada and the type of jobs that exist in the sector and prepare them with many of the skills and some of the practical experience required to take advantage of future post-secondary and career opportunities.

It’s always difficult to predict the exact types of skills that will be in demand in five years’ time. Manufacturers always struggle when asked that on surveys! But, we do know what the basic competencies of future manufacturing workers are likely to be. And, these are the very skills that MFI aims to help Indigenous students develop in its programs.

First of all, there are the basics. Building self-confidence is key, particularly among Indigenous students. Other personal attributes are also important for anyone looking for a job in manufacturing. They need to be responsible, dependable, and reliable. They need a high degree of integrity and should want to make a contribution to the future. They need to work well with other people and value diversity and inclusion among their colleagues. They need initiative. And, they should be curious and like to learn new things.

Academic skills – reading, writing, financial literacy, communication skills, critical thinking, research and data analysis capabilities, basic computer skills, as well as knowledge of math and science – are important as well, particularly when they can be applied to problem solving relevant to manufacturing.

Problem solving – that’s where entrepreneurship comes in. Students who can find innovative, more efficient, and more effective ways of doing things will be highly valued whatever their job is. Practical experience and demonstrated ability to work in teams are also gateways to good jobs and valuable learning experience, and ground experience in real problems.

Indigenous students also support in developing their digital skills and their comfort working with data and data-based technologies. Through another of its initiatives, NGen is aiming to provide easy low-cost access to cloud-based online coding courses as well as to robotics and IT network simulations for students across Canada. It’s a good example of how technologies can enable learning and not just be the object of education. For the first time, Indigenous students in remote locations will be able to develop digital skills and participate in robotics competitions on their own personal devices without downloads that eat up scarce bandwidth.

But, let’s face it. It’s not just about students and educators. Manufacturers themselves need to be involved. Teachers are crying out for speakers, mentors, opportunities to visit manufacturing facilities, tools, and information that can make their jobs easier. And, students are looking for role models and opportunities that will provide them practical work opportunities.

NGen will be looking for manufacturers who are willing to volunteer as speakers, mentors, and part-time employers. We hope you’ll offer your support. If you are interested, contact us at info@ngen.ca. And check out what MFI is doing at www.themfi.ca.