Mr. Speaker, a motion was passed in June recommending that a "Hire North" policy be developed to ensure the hiring of northern residents to the public service takes place. Members asked that the Minister of Personnel to give a status report on this matter at the September session.
Since that time, I have had the opportunity to consult with the Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Programs and would like to make the following remarks.
The hiring of northerners has always been, and continues to be, a priority of this government. That is why we have the Affirmative Action Policy. The policy is constitutionally sound, and provides us with the tools we need to make sure that aboriginal people, long term northerners, women, and the disabled get every opportunity for a first chance at jobs in the public service.
Many of our achievements, however, are overshadowed by publicity given to other events. In the absence of a public document to explain the government's policy and approach to northern hire, the impression is left that there is no strategy. That is not the case.
As a result, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter.
Mr. Speaker, the objective of hiring northerners applies to more than just government. It involves all sectors of our economy, government, boards and agencies, and private enterprise. Maybe more so in private enterprise. Everyone who writes a pay cheque should be doing whatever they can to make sure our workforce is gainfully employed.
We have a lot of talent out there. Unfortunately, many of the unemployed are inexperienced. They require skills upgrading and training. In addition, many of those who are employed require additional training to enter management level positions. There is work to be done and we are prepared to take any steps designed to increase job opportunities, and the hiring of northern residents.
The government also knows that not everyone wants to be a civil servant. Investment and partnerships with private enterprise will also make it possible for people to enter the workforce and, in the long run, help to reduce the cost factors involved in employee turnover and the hiring of southern expertise.
Mr. Speaker, the government's employment strategy began in 1976 with the establishment of the Office of Native Employment to promote aboriginal employment in the public service. At that time, there were only 650 aboriginal public servants who made up 22 percent of the total employee population.
In 1985, when the Native Employment Policy was introduced, the figures had increased to 1,136 aboriginal employees or 29.8 percent.
Four years later, we came to grips with the fact that many other northerners were disadvantaged, and the Native Employment Policy was expanded into the broader based Affirmative Action Policy that is in effect today.
As a result of these policy initiatives, we now have 1,902 aboriginal employees who make up 35 percent of the government workforce of 5,406.
Mr. Speaker, a total of 1,451 appointments were made last year and of that total, 1,082 employees, or 74.5 percent, were hired in the north.
However, this is only part of the picture.
The government provides contributions to a variety of operations, boards and agencies who employ their own staff. The majority of these staff members are northern and aboriginal people and although they are not public servants, the government funding does make a significant contribution to northern hire.
The Department of Transportation, for example, funds about 367 jobs through its ferry, highway maintenance, and airports operations. At least 200, or 54 percent, of these employees are aboriginal people. The N.W.T. Housing Corporation funds housing associations and authorities who employ 360 people, of whom 284 are aboriginal, making up 84 percent of the total.
The Dogrib Tribal Council and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation on the other hand, are working together on development of hydro plants in the Fort Rae/Lac La Martre area. This type of joint venturing means jobs. Jobs mean money and money results in increased business opportunities.
In addition, the government's business incentive policy gives preference to northern businesses and contractors, who in turn draw from the territorial labour pool to get their jobs done.
Mr. Speaker, our highest priority continues to be increasing the representation of aboriginal northerners in the public service. However, figures from the 1989 labour force survey show that there is no simple solution.
There are about 18,390 aboriginal people between the ages of 15 to 64. Only 7,610 of them were employed at the time of the survey. Of the remaining 10,780, more than 8,600, or 80 per cent, of the total had less than grade nine.
Those who stand the best chance of employment are the 2,133 unemployed who have a grade ten or higher education. However, over one third of these residents are unable to work due to disability, caring for children, or attending school. The number is further reduced by those who are unwilling, or unable, to relocate to another community to work. Many of these would also require upgrading to meet the requirements of many jobs.
Mr. Speaker, those are the statistics. Skill shortages within the northern workforce means we must continue to hire for some positions outside of the Northwest Territories until northerners take full advantage of our education and training systems. This is unavoidable in the short to medium term.
The government's strategy for maximizing the skills of the northern workforce includes a number of elements. The first priority is expanding the skills based with projects such as Arctic college's government oriented training programs. For instance:
- Academic upgrading programs with 731 full-time and 1,666 part-time students; and
The social services worker program with 39 full-time and 78 part-time such as Arctic College's government orientated training programs. For instance:
- Academic upgrading programs with 731 full-time, and 1,666 part-time students;
- Social service worker program, with 39 full-time and 78 part- time students;
- The teacher education program, with 76 full-time, and 168 part-time students;
- The renewable resources and environmental technological programs, with 40 full-time, and four part-time students;
- The management studies program with 98 full-time and 391 part-time students; and
- A variety of other programs such as nursing assistants, community health representatives and interpreter/translators.
In addition our strategy includes:
- Encouraging parents to do all they can to keep their children in school and motivate them towards higher education;
- Encouraging individuals to take on more responsibility themselves; and
- A stay in school campaign to encourage youngsters to complete their education.
It is interesting to note that post-secondary educational grants to aboriginal students have increased from only 83 in 1982 to over 560 in 1992. In 1983 only 203 forgivable loans were issued to students, compared to over 550 in 1992.
Mr. Speaker, we are also doing all we can to:
- Provide for grade extensions to eliminate the need to leave home to complete education in grades 10 to 12; and
- Establish Career Development Centres to provide career counselling and employment support programs for adults.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, we are eliminating barriers to northern employment and maximizing access to government jobs by:
- Replacing the existing classification system which rates job factors instead of a person's qualifications;
- Revising job descriptions to get rid of unrealistic qualification requirements;
- Continual monitoring of our Affirmative Action Policy to make sure hiring and training preference are provided to northerners;
- Administering a competition appeals system which gives all affirmative action candidates, including non-employees, the right to appeal competitions;
- Working with graduating post-secondary students to develop individual career plans and to locate government jobs; and
- Minimizing southern recruiting by strictly limiting the number of southern advertisements.
Mr. Speaker, jobs for communities are a key element of the strategy. As the Minister of Finance stated the other day, "we need to train people and assist them in finding jobs, rather than pay them to stay at home." As a result, we are:
- Maximizing job opportunities at the local levels when positions are decentralized to communities; and
- Developing plans for the transfer of programs and services and jobs to community levels as part of the community transfer initiative.
We are also attempting to improve our ability to keep northern employees in order to develop a more stable northern public service through:
- Orientation programs, including a cross cultural component, for all new employees;
- Surveys of present and former aboriginal employees to determine how they feel about government employment and to make changes that will improve retention rates; and
- Collective bargaining which focuses on negotiating "use in the North" benefits to attract northerners.
In addition, we providing opportunities for employees to enhance their career potential by:
- Working with departments to ensure employees have an opportunity to develop individual career plans;
- Making it possible for employees to take two year transfer assignments to other jobs to broaden their skills and improve their career potential;
- Providing education leave programs which provide funding for over 30 employees per year to take post-secondary education; and
- Operating a public service career training program, and an in-service apprenticeship training program that employs 125 trainees, over 90 per cent of whom are aboriginal people.
Mr. Speaker, the Government cannot tackle this important job by itself. Sharing the responsibility for hiring northern residents is perhaps the most important part of our strategy. As a result:
- The private sector, particularly contractors who do government work, are encouraged to recognize and demonstrate their responsibility for northern hiring; - Organizations totally funded by the government must conform to the government's northern hiring strategy;
- Organizations partially funded by the government must develop their own policies to satisfy the spirit of the northern hiring strategy;
- Government contractors and organizations funded by the government are required to report regularly on their success in northern hiring; and
- Wherever it is economically feasible, government funded construction projects include mandatory training and employment quotas for northerners.
Mr. Speaker, the various elements of our northern hiring strategy have gone a long way to increase the numbers of northerners in the government workforce. We can expect a slow but steady growth in the numbers of aboriginal and northern employees as more jobs go to the communities, and educational levels increase.
The fact remains, though, that it will not be possible for us to downgrade qualification requirements for all jobs without seriously effecting levels of service to the public.
I am prepared, however, to tighten restrictions on southern hiring by requiring departments to obtain ministerial approval before they consider southern hiring. I have also instructed my officials to conduct exit interviews for all employees to identify ways and means of reducing turnover and retaining our northern talent.
As well, we are examining the feasibility of establishing a support program for employees who need help to deal with personal and family problems, as well as substance abuse. We also plan to develop a public document outlining our strategies for northern hire, and are certainly prepared to consider recommendations of the Standing Committee on Finance.
In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, we do have a comprehensive Affirmative Action Policy and northern employment regime that have produced some good results. Regardless, the government is open to any suggestions Members may have for other steps we can take to improve our record of northern hires.
There is always room for improvement. Thank you.