Aboriginal youth in Canada’s North experience a number of real physical and emotional challenges. Like most youth, Aboriginal youth are also regularly confronted with peer pressure, parental expectations, and school-related issues.

One cannot talk about youth wellness without talking about their future. How are Aboriginal youth going to make a living? What kinds of employment can they have where they can value themselves and be valued by others?

Efforts that focus on building leadership and mentoring are ultimately helping to empower Aboriginal youth to become active participants in the decisions that affect them. This, in turn, is helping youth to build confidence in themselves, shaping them into role models for their peers. Many of these youth leadership programs, such as the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sports Achievement Centre North, also provide peer support and opportunities to learn and practice valuable life skills.

According to The Conference Board of Canada’s Centre for the North, employers that invest in the health of children and youth “are also investing in their current and future workers. By supporting the health and well-being of children and youth—through education, literacy, nutrition, or employment programs and initiatives—employers are contributing to the development of a skilled, productive, healthy, and innovative workforce.”

The following example, outlined in The Conference Board report, Building on Our Strengths: Aboriginal Youth Wellness in Canada’s North, is instructive. In 2012, the Toronto-based mining company Agnico Eagle Mines Limited showed an 80 per cent turnover rate of Inuit workers at its Meadowbank gold mine in Nunavut. Absenteeism rates at Meadowbank averaged about 22 workers per day. One year later, Agnico Eagle had a 92 per cent retention rate.

What changed? Agnico Eagle had been placing new Inuit recruits in challenging jobs too early in their careers. The company consulted with employees and learned that money wasn’t necessarily the primary motivator for Inuit workers. Many were seeking career paths and training opportunities, but needed a more graduated, on-the-job learning curve to realize their goals.

Based on this information, Agnico Eagle adjusted its recruitment policy. It created a job readiness program offered in Inuktitut and hired more Inuit employees for entry-level positions, rather than for the particularly challenging jobs they were originally filling.

About the author

Anja Jeffrey

Anja Jeffrey is the Director of the Centre for the North, an organization dedicated to bringing together Aboriginal leaders in business, government, and community to help Aboriginal youth in need. She previously held senior roles in policy analysis for the Standards Council of Canada and headed the ministry of foreign affairs.