Journey towards truth and reconciliation: a business story

How Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council is bring Indigenous youth and employers together

Originally published in CPHR‘s HR Matters magazine.

Employers meet with job-training participants in conversation circles.

TRC92: Youth Employment

Named after and guided by the 92nd Call to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (2015), Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council (WPRC)’s TRC92: Youth Employment initiative seeks to increase employment opportunities for Indigenous youth by building connections between Indigenous job-seekers and private-sector employers in Winnipeg. As directed by Call to Action #92, the initiative incorporates learning for management and staff about Indigenous history, anti-racism and intercultural safety, before jumping ahead toward creating employment opportunities.

Truth before reconciliation

Since the launch of TRC92 in 2017, Dave Angus (former CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and current President of Johnston Group) stepped forward to champion the initiative.

He proposed using an Employer Consortium model, whose purpose would be “a journey toward truth and reconciliation, incorporating business-to-business learning”.

Dave’s vision is to gradually scale up the impact of the initiative by establishing sector-based employer consortiums in Winnipeg, all committed to working together to respond to Call to Action #92.

But would businesses be interested in participating in TRC92: Youth Employment? Would it be a priority? It turns out that there is a compelling business case to be made for adopting Indigenous-focused employment strategies, considering the rapidly growing and very young Indigenous population throughout Canada, and particularly in Winnipeg.

But more than that, many businesses recognize the urgent need to redress past wrongs with Indigenous peoples, and want to be part of the solution.

Since the fall of 2017, a consortium representing nine committed Winnipeg corporations has been meeting to engage in educational activities and share experiences for mutual learning, as each grapples with how Call to Action #92 can best be implemented in their particular workplace. Just recently, a second Employer Consortium for construction companies has come together.

WPRC also reached out to ten community organizations that train Indigenous youth for jobs. These organizations, which include The Momentum Centre and Urban Circle Training Centre, are working hard each day to provide youth with necessary job and life skills, in a culturally-appropriate and supportive environment. They are anxious to engage with employers who can provide opportunities for the participants once they finish training. 

Employers meet with job-training participants in conversation circles.

Building Relationships

An important principle for TRC92: Youth Employment is ‘building relationships’ – relationships between employers in the consortium, between employers and the community organizations, and between employers and Indigenous job-seekers. With relationships comes trust and increased understanding for everyone involved.

As part of relationship-building, WPRC has organized several opportunities for Employer Consortium participants to meet with Indigenous job-seekers on-site, at the community training organizations.

They sit in circles of about ten people, with employers and job-seekers participating equally, asking each other questions like ‘What is important to you in a work environment? What can employers do to make you feel welcome? How does your company respond to racism in the workplace?’

These conversations go a long way towards building relationships and changing perceptions. Job-seekers respond with surprise and appreciation that employers care about what they think. Employers gain a new understanding for the strong desire that youth have, to succeed in the employment world.

But what about jobs?

As relationships grow and employers figure out what the possibilities are in their workplaces, some have moved toward developing Indigenous employment strategies. As of January 2019, four companies have engaged Indigenous job-seekers.

Other employers recognize that there is still work to be done within their workforces to build awareness and understanding, before launching a dedicated Indigenous employment strategy.

The “…journey toward truth and reconciliation…” that Dave Angus envisioned, is different for each company. They learn from each other while also implementing their own strategies in their own timeframe toward the ultimate goal of employment for Indigenous job-seekers.

The TRC Report is a gift to Canadians…It is now our responsibility to respond to the report in a demonstrated way to create new relationships with Indigenous peoples based on respect and understanding” – Dave Angus

“Life-changing.”

“Life-changing…powerful…so impactful and important” – this is a sampling of responses from business leaders after a half-day learning session with Kevin Lamoureux, past National Education Lead at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), located at the University of Manitoba.

Kevin told the story of Residential Schools and the trauma inflicted on Indigenous people through seven generations, and continuing up to today. He often referred to his daughter who, in a not-so-distant past, would almost certainly have been among the thousands forced into Residential School to suffer the loss of culture and the many other indignities that entailed. Instead, she is a typical seven-year old who loves traditional dancing.

For business leaders attending the NCTR session, these were difficult but critical truths to learn about. MaryAnn Kempe, Chief Human Resources Officer at Birchwood Automotive Group, put it this way:

“I left the session feeling quite emotional – a raw reminder of my privilege and as (Kevin) stated, deep anger of broken promises…I cannot fathom the scars that have been created for seven generations as a result of our ancestors. But, I also left hopeful for the future, that the time is now and that we all need to step up and make it our business to set the future right and repair this partnership.

I commit to spending reflective time considering the TRC Call to Action and what next steps might look like for me personally and for Birchwood.”

Private-sector employers interested in participating in the TRC92: Youth Employment initiative are invited to reach out.

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