NAP: From an Apprenticeship to Self-Sufficiency

May 30, 2023

With funding from the Government of Canada, NWAC’s National Apprenticeships Program (NAP) advocates for the inclusion of Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit, Transgender, and Gender-Diverse+ (WG2STGD+) Peoples in the construction and manufacturing trades. Through NAP, NWAC's goal is to connect small and medium-sized enterprises with Indigenous candidates who would qualify and receive first-year apprenticeships in one of the program’s 39 Red Seal skilled trade occupations.

The program offers a unique opportunity to address the gender gap in historically male-dominated occupations. Currently, only 5% of skilled trade workers in Canada are women. The goal is to support women entering these Red Seal trades. This would align with the national strategy, which aims for 15% by 2030.

Unemployment rates among Indigenous communities in Canada confirm there are recruitment and retention issues due to systemic barriers and discrimination. By advocating for more Indigenous candidates to join the skilled trades as first-year apprentices, NAP provides a two-fold opportunity: to work and to learn. Training at work allows apprentices to gain valuable hours toward their certificate of qualification, while also receiving a wage. A few weeks of in-class training per year will solidify all the learning they would bring from their workplace to the classroom.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called upon the corporate sector to provide equitable access to jobs and education opportunities for Indigenous Peoples. Corporate commitment to reconciliation starts with acknowledging the honour to live, and work, within the Traditional Territories, while continuing with thoroughly reviewing the business culture to ensure sure it mirrors the diversity of the community. Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace is the first step to building a workforce where all Canadians have fair access to job opportunities. An apprenticeship in the skilled trades ends with a Red Seal endorsement. With such an endorsement, a graduating apprentice can work anywhere in Canada. Those living in remote communities can gain economic autonomy through self-employment.

From a global perspective, Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has a right to work and be protected against unemployment. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, recently adopted by Parliament as a binding international human rights instrument, codifies the Indigenous right not to be subjected to any discriminatory conditions of labour, employment, or salary (article 17(3)). From a national perspective, the Employment Equity Act requires employers to identify, and remove, barriers to employment, as well as to make reasonable accommodations for Indigenous Peoples in the employer’s workforce.

From an Indigenous perspective, certain considerations to employment are included, such as that cultural identity is derived from the land, language, and community. Most companies lack a clear policy for Indigenous recruitment and retention. Creating internal, cross-cultural inclusion training and implementing Indigenous programs help to advance careers for Indigenous WG2STGD+ Peoples and enrich the workplace.

Diversity and Inclusion are evolving concepts that encourage people to bring different worldviews and perspectives to a workplace. When people can be themselves, they feel respected, valued, and connected in an inclusive environment. NAP is a step toward inclusive hiring by increasing the number of Indigenous WG2STGD+ apprentices, where they are under-represented.

Moreover, any recruitment process starts with building relationships, partnering with the community, and training agents. Building someone’s trust is the highest barrier to Indigenous employment. Creating a true commitment between the company and the applicant is at the heart of this program.

Thus, NAP is not a job placement program as such, but an advocacy exercise to place individuals on a career path that begins with an apprenticeship and ends with self-sufficiency. NWAC’s focus is on long-term career development in industries where the future is promising. Trade jobs are stable, secure, and high paying; the demand for skilled workers is high; and many self-employment opportunities await