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Baby boomers are retiring at rapid rates and the question for employers has become, "Who is going to replace them?" The Sustaining the Canadian Labour Force report put out by the Conference Board of Canada states that companies will have to look at previously untapped sources of labour, such as immigrants, women, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal peoples.

This is not news to Kelly Lendsay, president and CEO of Aboriginal Human Resource Council (AHRC). Since 1998, he has been working on Aboriginal recruitment and retention strategies for businesses to succeed in procurement.

When Lendsay first accepted his current position in the late 90s, he says the topic of Aboriginal recruitment was not on the radar for corporations in Canada. In fact, many of the universities and colleges were just starting to look at Aboriginal students, Aboriginal curriculum, and the whole area of Aboriginal education, he explains. However, there were some sectors of the economy that looked toward Aboriginal people as a solution for their skill shortage, particularly in the resource and energy sectors.

But there are still many other sectors where Aboriginal recruitment is not being considered, he says. So that's really no different than in 1998, and I think that articles like this one, as well as just more attention, is helping to awaken employers to the opportunities of working with Aboriginal people.

Some employers are actively taking notice of the Aboriginal population by developing alternative, more personalized strategies, to engage with potential recruits using grassroots methods.

Paul Sayers, Aboriginal recruitment consultant for Hydro One, spends time at career fairs across Ontario, including outreach to remote First Nations communities. He also coordinates all First Nations and Métis job applications, and personally follows up with individuals, whether or not they are hired. If they don't have the necessary requirements for the position, he discusses pathways and upgrade options to improve hiring eligibility.

Inclusion Works, an annual event put on by the AHRC is another innovative strategic initiative. We bring 100 post-secondary graduates from colleges and universities and link them directly to employers, says Kelly Lendsay. It has really showcased to the general public ' and to the private sector and government ' that there are still Aboriginal people and we are reversing the trend. There is an increasing number of students completing degrees and pursuing career paths in every sector of the economy.

Earlier this year in Toronto, Craig Jackson, coordinator, Community Power Services Group of Ontario Sustainable Energy Association, was a recent college graduate and was selected to attend Inclusion Works 2010. It was there that he solidified his current position within the green energy sector. We were treated like royalty when we first showed up, everything was taken care of for us, Jackson says. I realized that this is a professional organization [AHRC] and they were looking out for our [recent graduates] best interests there. And not because it's some mandate with their organization, but the people involved really care about what they are doing ' and I was really taken aback by this. I couldn't believe that they were doing all of this for us.

There are numerous success stories in employment gains from strategies that the AHRC has put into place over the past 12 years, and the impact that Inclusion Works has had over the past two years on almost 200 recent Aboriginal graduates. But the best measure of success is perceived by looking at the overall scope of inclusion in the workplace.

I've seen employers who are applauding their efforts and feeling very good about the fact that they are helping to create career paths for Aboriginal people, Lendsay says. They are reversing a history of education, employment and socio-economic gaps, so they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment, or shared accomplishment, by partnering with organizations and helping to reverse that history of exclusion.

Paul Sayers says the best success for me is measured by the success of our people. He sees that there is a definitive change in Aboriginal applicants over the past nine years since he has been involved in Aboriginal recruitment and employment strategies. I see an increasingly educated and stronger community. We have the same aspirations as mainstream Canada.

As the Aboriginal workforce is now being targeted as a solution to the labour shortage, there will be a definitive shift in both hiring and training practices. I think that the challenge for employers was that they were looking at diversity; women, people of colour, people with disabilities, Kelly Lendsay says. But where they didn't make the leap was how to now integrate those strategies and focus on Aboriginal recruitment and retention. And that is precisely what most companies will be in the midst of figuring out over the next decade.

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