Evidence of meeting #24 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was aboriginal.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Kim Warburton  Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.
  • Ross Hornby  Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.
  • Barb Keenan  Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.
  • Kelly Lendsay  President and Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Human Resource Council
  • Peter Dinsdale  Chief Operating Officer, Assembly of First Nations
  • Elvera Garlow  Representative, Assembly of First Nations
  • Cheryl McDonald  Representative, Assembly of First Nations

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We'll start our committee meeting.

I'm happy to have with us representatives from General Electric Canada and Ontario Power Generation.

I understand that each of you will be presenting for five minutes. Then we'll have questions and answers from all parties.

I understand that we'll be starting with either Kim Warburton or Ross Hornby, I'm not sure which.

Kim, go ahead.

3:30 p.m.

Kim Warburton Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Thank you very much.

Thank you to the members of the committee for the opportunity to present. I am going to start, and then my colleague, Ross Hornby, will complete.

In January 2011, GE Canada launched a partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce focusing on Canada's remote communities, and looking at them through a business lens. We conducted 11 cross-country round tables and an online survey that allowed us to hear from 500 business stakeholders. Our aim in so doing was to better understand the challenges of business, the successes, and the investment intentions of business in Canada's remote communities.

As you know, most of Canada's natural resources are in remote areas—our oil and natural gas, metals and minerals, forests and hydroelectric sites, and other untapped resources. These primary industries stimulate other sectors, such as construction and commercial services. With global demand for natural resources increasing, our remote communities are among the brightest spots in our economy. The relative attractiveness and strength of these communities are key enablers to effectively realizing Canada's economic opportunity.

We highlighted our study findings in a document called Remote. Resource Rich. And Ready. Feedback from our study suggests that Canada is at a tipping point. Our work noted abundant optimism; 93% of respondents believe remote communities will play an important role in Canada's economic future. We heard too that investing in remote areas shouldn't be seen as a subsidy for poorer regions, but as something that's vital to ensure Canada's overall prosperity for decades to come.

While there's optimism, our study also raised challenges in terms of attracting and growing businesses in remote Canada. Three major factors emerged.

The first is infrastructure. This includes affordable, reliable energy efficiency; reliable wireless broadband connectivity; affordable, efficient transportation; and access to clean and abundant water. These become the building blocks to business investment.

Next is the availability of a skilled workforce. Remote communities have significant labour issues. Future growth could exacerbate existing conditions and limit business investment opportunity. Businesses noted that while they're willing to train workers, poor literacy and numeracy are barriers.

There is also a need to match skills and training programs with market requirements. Too often, it was noted, these are out of step. One remote community, for example, had a lot of hair and aesthetic programs, but offered no training support for required mining skills-related training.

Tied to workforce availability and readiness is the third challenge: education. For instance, high school dropout rates are up to three times higher in remote communities. In Nunavut, barely 25% of youth graduate high school. Over the next decade, 400,000 aboriginal Canadians will reach working age. Improving graduation rates will help Canada develop a highly skilled homegrown workforce and the workforce needed in the resource sector. We heard there is often a significant difference in the education level achieved in remote communities versus the rest of Canada.

Another concern is that on a per-student basis, the federal government provides considerably less to first nations than the provinces in education. That was noted by business as well. Other barriers include a lack of connectivity, which places youth at a disadvantage for online learning and access to information.

Lastly, students in remote communities who want post-secondary education often must leave their communities to do so. This can be costly and stressful—a big disincentive.

February 27th, 2012 / 3:35 p.m.

Ross Hornby Vice-President, Government Affairs and Policy, General Electric Canada Inc.

Thank you, Kim.

I'll try to sum up what Kim has presented as a result of the study GE did.

Essentially, the first point we would make as a recommendation is that there should be a much broader recognition across Canada of the importance of remote communities in Canada's economic development. This basic recognition issue is something that we tend to gloss over, but it needs to be looked at more seriously across a variety of government programs and business programs so that we recognize that prosperity is dependent on the efficient allocation of resources in these remote communities.

The second recommendation we would make is that we need to have an improvement in the high school graduation rate in remote communities, particularly among the aboriginal populations. We note that the Government of Nunavut recently brought forward a 10-point program to improve high school graduation rates in that territory. This is a good model for what needs to be rolled out across the country.

We also think—Kim referred to it—that for those students who do obtain a secondary education, there's a gap between their results and their competencies versus those of graduates from the south. We need to have a better focus on literacy and numeracy, so that all high school graduates have those basic skills—rather than graduating students that lack those skills.

Another recommendation relates to broadband connectivity. It's extremely difficult to do online training, including in a business setting, if you don't have online connectivity. Also, we think there needs to be better partnerships between business and government, and the suppliers and producers to improve broadband access in rural areas.

The fifth recommendation relates to developing and funding skills training programs. Here, we need to work with industry, government, and aboriginal bands to make sure we are funding skills programs that are related to jobs.

The sixth and final recommendation we make is that better community supports are needed for post-secondary students who leave remote communities and go to the cities to do post-secondary education. This is an extremely difficult task for them. The dropout rate is very high. There are social adjustment difficulties that students face, and we need to have community support there to assist these students to bridge that gap and meet that challenge.

I'll conclude there with the recommendations that flow from our work on remote communities.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

Certainly, increasing the graduation rate and encouraging the post-secondary movement is important—for sure—and many of our resources are in the remote areas, and developing them in a fashion that would work for the benefit of those who are there and for everyone else would be a good thing.

I know that Ontario Power has been doing some interesting things, so I look forward to hearing from you.

Ms. Keenan, go ahead.

3:35 p.m.

Barb Keenan Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Thank you.

Good afternoon, and thank you, honourable members of Parliament, for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon.

I thought I'd tell you a brief story about Ontario Hydro. Ontario Power Generation's roots were in Ontario Hydro. Prior to 1950 we were almost exclusively hydro. In 1999, when the system was going to be deregulated, Ontario Hydro split into five separate companies, and the generation division turned into Ontario Power Generation.

In terms of our company profile, we have quite a diversified mix of electricity generation, including nuclear, hydro, and thermal, and our organization is spread throughout the province. It is very geographically dispersed with plants in many of the rural and northern communities.

Like many other organizations, we will soon be facing a demographic challenge as one-third of our population is close to retirement. With a complex business and a long training curve for our employees, it's important to get out in front of this.

Given that we have a strong presence in areas that are close to aboriginal communities, it's incumbent upon us to capitalize on this as well as growing these partnerships. The aboriginal youth population is the fastest growing in Canada, and it seems like a natural opportunity.

One thing you're going to hear me talk about is the lower Mattagami River project, which is currently one of the largest capital projects in northern Ontario at $2.6 billion. What you will hear about is a partnership we have been able to construct there.

As a further backdrop, Ontario Power Generation has a presidential-level policy on first nation and Métis relations, and the whole focus of that policy is on building long-term mutually beneficial relationships with the aboriginal and Métis communities. One of the key thrusts of our policy is around business units engaging local first nation and Métis communities in order to bring about more capacity building, employment, and outreach. I'll give you some quick examples of each.

As to capacity building, we've created our own national aboriginal achievement award, the John Wesley Beaver. We take two aboriginal youth, one female and one male, who have excelled and have contributed to their community, and we provide them with a work term. It has proved to be most beneficial.

An example in terms of employment is developing unique partnerships to create jobs and training opportunities. Lastly, the outreach is around strong ties to local band offices.

The strongest partnership we've been involved in is the lower Mattagami. This is an initiative—Sibi, as it's called—that was established in March 2010 with the Moose Cree Nation, MoCreebec, TTN, and Métis. Through funding from the federal and provincial governments, and our partner, Kiewit, as well as the building trades unions, we have provided a training and employment initiative. What it has resulted in is the Mattagami aboriginal project. We have $250 million in aboriginal-only contracts in areas such as security and catering. We have over 900 first nation individuals in our database, and we are employing 100 to 200 through contracts for work on that project. Right now on this project, there are 600 to 800 individuals on any given day. At the peak, it will be 1,200, so it has been a substantial achievement. The breakthrough has come through getting the training. We have an employee readiness program where we've been able to assess people's skills, and then really key in on opportunities where critical skills are required and work with the communities to build that.

In terms of other initiatives, we also have worked with the Electricity Sector Council on a three-year program on aboriginal workforce participation. It's focused on two pillars. One is attracting, recruiting, and retraining aboriginals to industry, and the second is providing aboriginal communities with an awareness of the careers and the opportunities that exist in the sector. A great example of an initiative has been the aboriginal youth camps. We've opened up camps to not only help aboriginal youth explore career opportunities, but also to impress upon them the value of math and sciences in their academic training as they look to future careers.

In terms of barriers to skills development, the slide identifies some of them, but I want to give you a bit of a flavour of some of the things we've done to address the barriers.

Those start with something called the “native circle”, an employee resource group within our organization. They are all first nations employees. They provide support to first nations individuals when they come to work for OPG. As well, they provide some awareness-raising within our own employee group that has been very beneficial.

Second, when we're in our northern communities—recognizing some of my colleagues' comments about the lack of Internet access—we actually go out to the first nations locations and talk to them, help them with their resumés, engage them directly on what the opportunities are, and be a lot more proactive on that front.

Third, pertaining to the lower Mattagami project, two things have been done. One is that a social advocate is being employed when we have first nations individuals come to the lower Mattagami project. It is isolated, and the individuals are often away from their community. In a lot of cases when they are younger employees, it's the first time that they've been away. The social advocate provides a support system for them when they're there. Alternatively, our contractor, Kiewit, has engaged The Wesley Group to provide cultural awareness training to the rest of the community at the lower Mattagami project.

I would also note that we recognize the importance to Cree culture of hunting and fishing. During that season, the first nations employees are afforded additional vacation days to ensure that they can participate in that activity.

I thought I would also provide just a few recommendations from our perspective. Those are around three key thrusts.

The first is around ensuring the linkage between industry and partnerships with the first nations. The success of our partnership with Sibi was that we involved the community, communicated our skill requirements, and engaged the community members early to help integrate the local population into the workforce. We were very proactive. We provided career awareness and targeted education. Often we found that first nations people may have been interested in heavy equipment, for instance, and instead we had opportunities in other key skills areas, so we tried to refocus their energy into areas where their skills would be most required.

The second is in terms of sponsorship of placement programs. Practical work placements, especially for people who had not been in the workforce for a period of time, allowed them to check out the work opportunity and gain their confidence. That led to some very beneficial results, particularly in the lower Mattagami.

The last one is around culturally relevant skills and innovative training solutions, so ensuring, further to what my colleagues have said, the customizing of the skills and training required, and bringing some of those opportunities and training to the actual first nations location. Often we have found that it's difficult for them; they don't always want to leave. If we can bring the training to them, with good-quality results, then it really has made quite an impact in terms of our moving forward.

I would welcome any questions the committee has.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

Thank you very much for that presentation.

We'll start our first round of questioning with Ms. Hughes.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Thank you very much for the great presentations. I think you've touched base on a lot of the issues we've been raising with respect to the cultural aspect and recognizing the needs of the first nations.

Ms. Keenan, I just want to touch base with you. You talked about how some people had their hopes on heavy equipment mechanic, but their skills were different. Based on the fact that you may have found them a different position somewhere else, is there actually an opportunity for them to move forward in being able to have the skills necessary for heavy equipment?

3:45 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

In the case of the lower Mattagami, we didn't have enough positions requiring that skill set of heavy machinery. So what we tried to do, if individuals had an interest, was to refocus them on something that might have transferable skills, so that the retraining efforts would be less and we could still end with a good result and them getting a placement in the project.

A lot of it is about getting out in front of it and making sure that people have an appreciation of the skills we actually require in our projects, and then tailoring the training to that need.

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

I'm trying to get some sense as well, and maybe you can weigh in on that, of the retention rate. What has been the retention rate, first of all, and what positions are the most required at this point in time?

Ms. Keenan, you mentioned Kiewit. When I was speaking with Kiewit just about a week ago, they were saying that they're having to fly in most of their skilled workers. There's a big shortage, and people are actually flying in from New Brunswick.

I'm just trying to get some sense as to where the demand is in your industry. Again, what is the best avenue for us to take with respect to being able to train people so that they would stay a bit more local and spend their money locally?

3:50 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

I can answer some of that based on the survey results.

Quite a number of the people we spoke to were in the mining industry. They noted several things. There are a lot of mines that will be opening in Canada. There is a lot of foreign investment for mining, and then there's the required skill set. It was described that there is a labour pool, but the gap is so wide between being able to train somebody to work in the mines, and the various skills in the communities that are around certain locations for mining.

There were lower levels of literacy than expected, for example. If you needed to read a training manual, there was sometimes an issue between literacy and comprehension. It wasn't so much, “We can come in and we have a lot of jobs“. We first need to address the gap around literacy and numeracy. So that was one of the things that really got talked about a lot in the round tables, particularly in the mining community.

When there were jobs and individuals were able and wanted to work in those areas, the employers spent a fair amount of time on the training initiative. However, some employers that went into the communities expected that there would be some local skills-training programs. That's where they were talking about this. I go back to the example that there was a lot of hairdressing, but there weren't mining-related skills. So a little bit of a mismatch was happening.

3:50 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

We have experienced the same thing. The majority of jobs where we have been able to employ first nations—particularly at the lower Mattagami project, which I'm most familiar with—are in the areas of catering, surveying, and working on the roads. They are more the entry-level, lower-skilled jobs. Through some training we were able to equip them with the skills so that they could engage in those positions. There was truly a gap.

One of the things we have been trying to do in some of the northern communities is provide some education. The skilled trades—things that require apprenticeships—are truly areas that we and the Construction Sector Council have identified as a real paucity of resources moving forward as people retire. That's an area where if we can help provide some support to the first nations, there could be a huge benefit.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Komarnicki

We'll move to Mr. Daniel.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Daniel Don Valley East, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for coming here today.

It seems that you've done a great job of doing the survey with businesses. But did you survey any of the communities to see where their skills gaps are and what they actually like to do? We've heard about some of the lower-level skills, but surely some of these people are capable of getting into IT, supervisory roles, etc.

Can you comment on that?

3:50 p.m.

Vice-President, Communications and Public Relations, General Electric Canada Inc.

Kim Warburton

Absolutely.

That's a very good point. When we started with the survey as GE, we wanted to stay in the area we felt we knew, which was the business community and the business lens. There isn't really a lot of available current literature, so that's where we focused. Of course, as we did our round tables, members who joined the round tables represented their communities as well as businesses. We were also joined by a number of municipal and territorial government officials.

You're quite right. There are people who are available and looking for opportunities, but the communities themselves commented on the gap. They talked a lot about a population that is a little bit shy and feels that they're not up to southern standards, if you will. Along comes opportunities for jobs, and people feel that maybe they're not able to do them, when they actually can with some training. There's an inherent shyness about going for that, because of the perception that maybe in the south things are better and there's this huge difference. It's a matter of building the confidence to approach the opportunities.

3:55 p.m.

Senior Vice-President, Human Resources and Chief Ethics Officer, Ontario Power Generation Inc.

Barb Keenan

There were other opportunities. There were fewer in terms of being able to capitalize, but we did have a number of apprenticeship areas. The building trades unions helped participate in this process. We did get a number of people who were starting to go through their apprenticeship in terms of plumbers, pipe fitters, carpenters, and trades along that path.

If I take it more from a corporate perspective, with our John Wesley Beaver award, what we try to do, through some of our summer or co-op positions, is bring in aboriginal students who are working on their university degrees in an area of discipline related to Ontario Power Generation to get them that work experience. There's definitely that avenue as well. My focus had just been on the lower Mattagami project when I made my original comment.