Many Nunavut and NWT employers can’t find enough workers and have trouble keeping the workers they have. Northern employers experience skills and labour shortages, as do many other parts of the country. The northern labour pool is relatively small and a great portion of unemployed people lack essential skills. Small and medium businesses and non-profit groups can’t keep up with wage demands set by government and large business such as mining. They lose workers to higher paying jobs and have trouble replacing them, spending time and resources they don’t have to recruit new workers. Or they shut down and communities do without services, many of which are delivered on behalf of government.
Nunavut and NWT companies typically do not provide enough opportunities for young apprentices they lack qualified journeypersons willing to take apprentices. Small business tends to train apprentices, not larger ones. Many young people that pass pre-trades programs lack the employability skills to succeed on the job. ARDHA holders are in a position to identify those prospective apprentices in need of essential skills programs.
Effective workforce and workplace literacy programs can help reduce the pressures from labour and skills shortages, and the constant time and resources needed to recruit and train new workers.
Nunavut Arctic College and Aurora College offer basic adult education, including basic literacy, in Nunavut and NWT communities. Most communities have a learning centre, although staff levels and programs vary. Learning centres may offer some pre-trades training and specialized courses such as St. John’s Ambulance or courses about local culture or land-based skills.
Learning centres may use some creative strategies to integrate basic education into more specialized pre-employment or skills courses. For example, students with some pre-trades courses at Aurora College use GIS technology to map their family’s trap line and then visit the site to verify the map.
Other examples include building basic language skills into firearms courses and offering pre-employment upgrading before camp attendant courses or as part of cooking courses. They partner with large companies to provide essential skills upgrading as a prelude to computer training.
Some learning centres offer adult basic education in the evening or on-site at a workplace. This helps overcome barriers connected with negative classroom experiences or with lack of time for full-time training.
Nunavut Arctic College piloted a handful of workplace literacy programs. In 1992, they began to investigate the potential of developing and piloting a learner-centred workplace literacy program in Rankin Inlet. The investigation included an organizational needs assessment. Government provided funding in 1995 to implement the three-year pilot program. This successful program led to a nine-month pilot program in Cambridge Bay. Many businesses participated, but it did not continue beyond the first year due to lack of funding.
The projects identified some keys to success:
Workplace instructors bridge the world of work and the essential skills workers need for tasks on the job. Instructors must balance employer’s needs with worker’s needs. Learning centres in NWT and Nunavut communities have an adult educator who administers and implements adult education programs. They may not have the time or skills to also develop and implement workplace and workforce literacy programs.