If corporate Canada could say one thing to Aboriginal students and recent grads, it would be: “We want you!”
Seriously. First Nations, Métis and Inuit people who have completed or are pursuing post-secondary education are hugely in demand – and it’s not just a diversity thing. “Corporations understand the value you bring to their business, such as new customers and new ways of thinking,” says Roberta Hewson, National Director, Aboriginal Workplace Inclusion at the Aboriginal Human Resource Council.
Plus, with so many Baby Boomers retiring over the next decade, employers can no longer overlook a talent pool that is growing at 6 times the rate of the non-Aboriginal population. “Employers want to invest in the success of Aboriginal people and they are eager to support you in a million different ways,” Roberta says, “such as through scholarships, awards and bursaries, as well as through internship, job shadowing and mentoring programs.”
As a young Aboriginal person in Canada, how can you take advantage of all of the unique opportunities available for Inuit, First Nations and Métis students to set yourself up for success?
Apply for awards, scholarships and bursaries
Employers, educational institutions, government and non-profit organizations, and private citizens have created hundreds of awards, scholarships and bursaries specifically for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
“Companies call me regularly to ask me if I know anybody who might be interested in applying to their award because it’s getting close to the closing date and they have no applicants.”
—Roberta Hewson, National Director, Aboriginal Workplace Inclusion, Aboriginal Human Resource Council
But, according to Roberta, many of them go unclaimed each year because not a single application is submitted. “Companies call me regularly to ask me if I know anybody who might be interested in applying to their award because it’s getting close to the closing date and they have no applicants.”
Applying for these opportunities could help you pay for school, get an internship, summer job or entry level job in your field, and raise your profile among employers and in your community. Think of it this way, Roberta says: if it takes you 2 hours to complete the application for an award that’s worth $3,000, and you win it, you made $1,500 an hour.
To make the application process more efficient, Roberta recommends creating a file that contains your resume, transcripts, letters of reference and any other important documents so you can quickly and easily customize application packages for each award, scholarship or bursary. You should also keep a document that contains your story and career or education goals because many award providers are interested in hearing about your background and your commitment to success.
For more tips on applying for scholarships, awards and bursaries, check out these articles:
- Can’t Find A Summer Job? Make Scholarship Hunting Your Job Instead
- Apply For Scholarships, Bursaries And Grants To Help Pay Your Tuition
Connect with your support networks
Aboriginal centres and groups at school
“Sometimes Aboriginal students are experiencing such culture shock when they go to school and they may not know where to go for help,” Roberta says. “But it’s just waiting around the corner for them – so many universities and colleges have unbelievable resources for Aboriginal students.”
Ask around to find out what’s available at your school. Chances are there is an Aboriginal student or career centre, or a number of student groups, clubs, associations and councils specifically for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
These resources will help you build your professional network and can offer real support when you need help. They will also probably be able to recommend awards, scholarships and bursaries as well as unique career opportunities available only to Aboriginal students and recent graduates.
Aboriginal and industry-specific groups and associations
There are many groups and associations for First Nations, Inuit and Métis people across the country where you can develop professional relationships with other Aboriginal people. For students and recent grads, Roberta recommends joining the Aboriginal Human Resource Council’s Young Indigenous Professionals groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Joining the national and provincial associations of your chosen profession, such as the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists, the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada or the Chemical Institute of Canada, to name just a few, can also open you up to a world of opportunity. Most of these associations have special student membership rates, so you don’t have to break the bank to join them.
Find out which employers value Aboriginal employees and diversity
More and more employers are bringing their diversity and inclusion policies out of their HR departments and right into their job descriptions, career websites and recruitment advertising.
“Smart companies talk about how wonderful and diverse they are, and what value they place on diversity,” Roberta says. “Aboriginal job seekers should ask, ‘What’s your harassment policy? What’s your diversity policy? What are your inclusion practices?’”
While you research jobs and employers on TalentEgg.ca or other websites, pay attention to whether or not they mention diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as a desire to hear from historically marginalized candidates, such as women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, youth, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.
“Don’t be afraid to check out what the climate is in an organization. Smart companies talk about how wonderful and diverse they are, and what value they place on diversity,” says Roberta. “Aboriginal job seekers should ask, ‘What’s your harassment policy? What’s your diversity policy? What are your inclusion practices?’”
Many of the employers featured on TalentEgg.ca outline their diversity policies and programs in their company profiles and on their careers websites.
Connect with employers and tell them about your accomplishments
Don’t be afraid to contact employers directly to ask about what they have to offer Aboriginal employees and to promote yourself as a qualified candidate.
“Tell employers you are an Aboriginal student and ask if you can talk to someone in their HR department about opportunities for summer jobs or internships,” says Roberta. “I feel pretty confident that, if it’s the right company, they will say, ‘When can you come in?’”
Once you’ve started the conversation, don’t sell yourself short – to be competitive, you need to learn how to promote your skills, education, experience and personal history.
“When Aboriginal students make it through to university, they have often cleared a number of hurdles that other people haven’t,” Roberta says. “Don’t be afraid to share your story and your ability to overcome challenges and adversity – employers want that from every employee and they especially value hearing it from Aboriginal candidates.”
Visit TalentEgg’s Aboriginal Career Guide to find more career resources for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and recent graduates.