Study: The Aboriginal Labour Force in Western Canada

by NationTalk on January 25, 20072219 Views

Thursday, January 25, 2007

2001 to 2005
Aboriginal people in Western Canada are starting to benefit from increasingly tighter labour market conditions, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia, according to a new study.

The study, published today in Perspectives on Labour and Income, uses the Labour Force Survey to compare employment characteristics of the off-reserve Aboriginal and the non-Aboriginal populations in Western Canada’s labour force.

It found that current trends signal an improvement in the labour market performance of Aboriginal people.Aboriginal employment increased 23% between 2001 and 2005, twice the rate of growth of only 11% for non-Aboriginals, the study found.

During the same period, the Aboriginal unemployment rate fell from 15.5% to 12.1%, while their participation rate rose, particularly among women.

Nevertheless, significant disparities remain between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations. In 2005, the unemployment rate of the Aboriginal population was 2.5 times that of non-Aboriginal population.

Also, the employment gap was high in cities such as Regina and Saskatoon, where a large portion of the Aboriginal population lives.

Alberta led job growth in the West, with a 43% increase in its gross domestic product between 2002 and 2005 and an unemployment rate of 3.9% in 2005. Not surprisingly, among the Western provinces, Aboriginal people in Alberta had the highest labour force participation rate, 70% of the working-age population, as well as highest employment rate (64%) and the lowest unemployment rate (8.5%).

Aboriginal people in Manitoba and British Columbia saw the highest growth in employment between 2001 and 2005. In Manitoba, their employment increased 30%, five times the rate of growth among non-Aboriginals.

The participation rate of British Columbia’s Aboriginal population was 66%, lower than Alberta’s. However, it was up from 2001. In contrast, Saskatchewan continued to have the lowest Aboriginal employment rate (52%), despite a small increase since 2001.

In Western Canada overall, the gap in employment rates between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginals narrowed between 2001 and 2005. The rate increased by one percentage point among non-Aboriginals, while rising strongly among Aboriginal people.

Saskatchewan also had the largest employment rate gap in 2005 (14 percentage points compared with 7 for all of Western Canada).

The study showed that postsecondary education helps eliminate the employment gap. Aboriginal people who held a university degree had an employment rate of 84% in 2005, surpassing the rate of 77% among the non-Aboriginal population.

In contrast, among the least educated, that is, those with no high school diploma, employment rates were low for both populations. In 2005, the employment rate for the Aboriginal population was 36%, compared with 41% for the non-Aboriginal population.

The impact of postsecondary education on employment is particularly strong for Aboriginal women. Those with a university education had an employment rate of 85% compared with 74% for non-Aboriginal women.

Between 2001 and 2005, Western Canada added over 283,000 jobs requiring a college diploma or certificate, or apprenticeship training, accounting for just over 60% of job growth.

Aboriginal people accounted for about 15,000 of these positions, 46% of their total job growth during these years. This suggests that Aboriginal workers are starting to fill the need for high-demand skills.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3701 and 3901.

The article “The Aboriginal labour force in Western Canada” is now available in the January 2007 online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, Vol. 8, no. 1 (75-001-XWE, free) from the Publications module of our website.

For more information or to inquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Jacqueline Luffman (613-951-1563,, Dissemination Division, or Deborah Sussman (613-951-4226;, Labour and Household Surveys Analysis Division.

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