New study examines jobs and schooling at 3 local First Nations

Marco Vigliotti

The local Aboriginal population could make “great contributions” to the economy and provide a desperately needed youth injection to a greying workforce, a new report suggests.

But First Nations residents must make strides in improving educational prospects to overcome a bleak employment picture, the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board study found.

The average age on the Kettle & Stony Point and Aamjiwnaang First Nations is 32 and 33 respectively, compared to 45 for all of Sarnia-Lambton area.

(Demographic and employment numbers for Walpole Island were not available.)

But employment on the two reserves is 13 to 20 percentage points lower than the rest of the county, according to figures from Statistics Canada.

“Fifty per cent of Sarnia-Lambton’s employed workforce is 45 years or older,” said Shauna Carr, executive director of the SLWDB. “The younger group of Aboriginal peoples could help balance the local labour market supply and demand in terms of numbers.”

Education, however, remains a stumbling block.

Though about 40% of the local aboriginal population has some postsecondary education, one in three have not finished high school, the report says.

Improving formal education levels, Carr said, could play a crucial role in ensuring better employment opportunities.

“This…requires more than numbers, but also specific qualifications from formal education and training,” she said, noting the local Aboriginal populations has higher educational attainment than the national Aboriginal average.

First Nations are well represented in Sarnia-Lambton’s population, with about 2,300 people residing on Walpole Island and another 1,300 in Kettle & Stony Point, according to 2014 figures from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada.

Current numbers are not available for Aamjiwnaang, but the report estimates the reserve’s population at 900.

In addition, about 5,400 Sarnia-Lambton residents self-identified as Aboriginal in the 2011 National Household Survey.