RBC Economics and Thought Leadership latest report, Building Bandwidth – Preparing Indigenous youth for a digital future. Photo Credit: RBC

National skills agenda required to prepare Indigenous youth for digital future

Sunday, July 18, 2021 10:17:00 AM

- Nearly two-thirds of jobs held by Indigenous workers are at risk of a skills overhaul;
- Indigenous youth less confident in their digital literacy skills compared to non-Indigenous youth;
- Less than 25 per cent of households in First Nations communities have access to high-speed internet;
- The success of Indigenous youth will be key to Canada's success – and to the ongoing process of reconciliation into the 2030s and beyond. -

Indigenous youth are growing four times faster than Canada's non-Indigenous population, representing a vital influx of entrepreneurs, innovators, managers and business owners for years to come. But a new RBC report says many are not being fully prepared to seize the opportunities of the country's rapidly changing economy.

"Over the next decade, 750,000 young Indigenous Peoples will move through the education system and into early careers, at a time when advanced technologies are transforming every sector in the country," said John Stackhouse, Senior Vice-President, RBC. "Preparing Indigenous youth for this digital future is essential to Canada's long-term prosperity and the ongoing process of reconciliation."

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

But Building Bandwidth – Preparing Indigenous youth for a digital future found that many Indigenous youth lacked confidence in their digital literacy skills, lagging 13 per cent behind non-Indigenous peers in an RBC Future Launch survey.

"Narrowing this gap in digital skills would enable Indigenous youth to unlock a host of opportunities in the future of work and, in turn, significantly increase their earning potential," said Stackhouse. "More importantly, access to a meaningful career 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."

Through an 18-month consultation with Indigenous youth and leaders, educators, and employers, the report outlines 8 recommendations that might help to prepare Indigenous youth for the digital future. They include:

- Fulfilling the federal commitment to provide high-speed to every Canadian by 2030, prioritizing underserviced Indigenous communities.
- Increasing access to venture capital, with special focus on the new Indigenous Growth Fund, a $150 million commitment from the Government of Canada, Business Development Bank of Canada and other government agencies.
- Allocating additional funding for digital devices and technology courses in primary and secondary schools, both on- and off-reserve, under the transfer formulas used by Indigenous Services Canada and the provincial and territorial education ministries.
- Closing the gaps in access to work-integrated learning for Indigenous youth, by entrenching the subsidy for Indigenous students under the federal Student Work Placement program, expanding remote WIL options and through matching tools between employers and candidates.
- Expanding academic bridging programs at universities, colleges and apprenticeship programs that boost fundamental and digital skills for Indigenous learners and improve outcomes in higher learning.
- Expanding representation of Indigenous culture, languages and content in online spaces by making digital-first approaches a priority for arts councils, and increasing the reach of Indigenous social media influencers who are promoting their culture online.

The report cites if Indigenous populations were able to participate in the economy at a level matching the average income of the Canadian worker, the country could generate an additional $67 billion in GDP.

Stackhouse added that, "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."