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Finding work is tough for anybody, anywhere. It’s tougher if you’re young or lack experience, or if you have a visible or invisible disability, or face other barriers to employment.

For many Inuit living in small communities with high unemployment and limited wage economies, finding work can be really tough.

There’s no simple answer. The obstacles facing Inuit range from low literacy and self-confidence to a lack of education and job- specific training. Supporting Nunavummiut in overcoming these obstacles can open the doors for their greater contribution to the growth and prosperity of the territory.

The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Family Services (DFS) has partnered with Performance Management Consultants (PMC) on a community-based approach in Arviat, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Coral Harbour, Iqaluit, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet. The approach combines pre-employment training with life skills development and civic engagement, while integrating experiential learning and traditional Inuit knowledge in the program.

The 2016 Baker Lake 12-week pilot project combined five learning modules, employer engagement and work experience with traditional activities — including a caribou hunt — and engaged participants in the development of a community-based non-profit business.

Baker Lake participant harvests her first caribou on the team hunt.

In communities like Baker Lake, goods and services are expensive. Anything that can be re-used rather than discarded has value and fits with the Inuit tradition of recycling all available materials. So why not build a social enterprise to meet that need? A thrift shop and food bank could supply food, recycled clothing and toys to the community, while training and employing people facing barriers to employment.

During and after the training program, PMC worked with a group of Baker Lake residents to form the Abluqta (“Step Forward Together”) Society. Two program graduates — the President of the Abluqta Society and the newly-hired store manager — are leading the development of a business plan and the search for additional funding for an early-2018 opening. As part of its support for community initiatives in the Kivalliq region, Agnico Eagle Mines will provide equipment and funding to help get Abluqta’s food bank up and running.

Financial literacy is a survival skill, so an early activity of the 2016 Baker Lake program was to visit the First Nations Bank. Several participants opened their first accounts. They learned about budgeting, debt and saving from the branch manager, and worked to apply that knowledge throughout the training program. The result? A reported 62 per cent improvement in participants’ ability to understand their finances.

Some participants learned to talk about their challenges with their employers and to ask for workplace accommodations. All learned coping strategies to manage stress and strengthen their resiliency.

Participants are encouraged to treat the program not as training but as work. Classroom training is combined with activities to connect participants with employers and support services. Participants identify local opportunities, apply for jobs and continue their growth through other programs.

The Baker Lake class tours
Agnico Eagle goldmine.

A young participant harvested her first caribou during the 2016 Baker Lake program. This was an important attainment, but the hunter never eats from her first harvest — she gave the meat to the Elders and to needy families.

Participants butchered the 17 caribou harvested and then organized a community feast in honour of greater inclusion for people with disabilities. They served the harvested meat along with other food and refreshments they had purchased with money they raised through fundraising. Afterwards, they donated the caribou skins as bedding for Baker Lake Search and Rescue.

The programs combine skills-building for the wage economy with traditional activities from storytelling to ice fishing to country-food dinners honouring Elders. Bake sales supported food banks or bought books for day care centres.

The youth programs in Arviat and Iqaluit filmed documentaries using equipment provided by PMC. In Arviat, participants hosted a local call-in radio show in Inuktitut, engaging local Elders in a discussion about finding work.

Seven of the Baker Lake pilot participants found full or part-time jobs. Two were accepted into the Pathways to Adult Secondary School (PASS) program to complete Grade 12. One moved on to a pre-trades program, and two entered an entrepreneurship training program.

Early results from the programs that wrapped up in December 2017 are also encouraging. Nine of 10 Cambridge Bay graduates are already employed in their community. Programs in Iqaluit, Coral Harbour and Pangnirtung run until March 2018.

Programs are tailored to meet the needs of the host communities. The legacy of each program is a group of Inuit graduates with improved life and work skills to turn community needs into opportunities.

“I have learned how to respect others and to work as part of a team,” said a Pond Inlet participant.

“Participating in this has really changed me personally. I am being told by others that I am a changed person in a good way,” said a Baker Lake participant. “I am also more open-minded to things I never considered before.”

For more information on the pre-employment programs, please contact:

Dan Hamilton, Vice President,
PMC: 613-234-2020, ext. 22;
dhamilton@pmcrenewal.com.