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One-third of Indigenous workers in Canada in jobs facing automation

Report puts lens on difficulties, potential barriers


TORONTO — One-third of Canada’s Indigenous workers are in jobs facing a high risk of automation, a new report has found.

Researchers at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute and the Future Skills Centre spent roughly a year studying 33 sectors and how advances in automation will affect Indigenous workers in those industries.

About 250,000 jobs — or 33.8 per cent of roles held by Indigenous workers across Canada — are currently concentrated in industries with a high risk of automation, says the report released on Monday.

“There’s a lot of research that goes into the economy, but very rarely is there an Indigenous lens put on it,” said Tabatha Bull, chief executive at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business and a member of the Nipissing First Nation.

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“This really puts a lens on the difficulties and potential barriers Indigenous people face to be on an equal playing field.”

At-risk industries

Indigenous people in Canada represent four per cent of the total labour force and generate a combined household income of about $30 billion a year, according to Statistics Canada.

Bull’s study showed that Indigenous workers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island are more at risk from automation than non-Indigenous workers in these provinces.

The research also found that 131,000 Indigenous workers are employed in sectors with the highest levels of automation risk, including accommodation and food services, retail trade, construction, transportation and warehousing, and management and administration.

Those at-risk industries account for approximately $2.43 billion of Indigenous wage revenue.

Indigenous workers tend to be more concentrated in these at-risk industries because of historical and geographical factors that have resulted in structural inequality lasting decades, said Wendy Cukier, the founder and academic director at the Diversity Institute and a research lead at both the Future Skills Centre and Women’ Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub.

“We know that Indigenous people have been disadvantaged in terms of opportunities for developing skills, for example, in the high-end information communications technology sector, where jobs tend to be safer from the risk of automation than other jobs that require lower level skills,” said Cukier.

Increase of robotics

In the construction industry, she has already noticed computerization eliminating jobs in architecture, design and surveying and an increase of robotics in the transportation and warehousing sector.

It’s even become common to see administrative roles eliminated because offices can resort to using iPads at a front entryway to admit people to a facility rather than having a receptionist, Cukier pointed out.

Jobs are at risk for non-salaried workers as well.

About 49,000 Indigenous individuals in Canada are listed as self-employed and many are in at-risk industries.

To protect their work and ensure Indigenous people have an opportunity to pivot or to land jobs that are less at-risk, Bull said the country must look at improving access and the quality of education for Indigenous communities, which have the fastest growing youth rates.

Improving infrastructure and working with policy-makers is key too, she said.

“We really need to look at our corporations and businesses and how are we educating senior leadership, at the board level and government about the history and the gaps that exist.”