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Indigenous Workers Face Higher Risk Of Jobs Being Automated: Study

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the rate of automation.

Canada’s Indigenous workers are disportionately at risk of losing their jobs to automation, a new report from Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute has found.

The report, put together with researchers at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB), found that 33.8 per cent of Indigenous workers are part of industries that are at high risk of losing paid jobs to automation.

The study rounded up the top five industries prone to losing human jobs to automated machines — accommodation and food services; retail trade; construction; transportation and warehousing; and management, administration and other services. It found that those industries employed about 131,000 Indigenous peoples. Across more industries, the study concluded that 250,000 jobs held by Indigenous workers are at a high risk for automation — that accounts for one third of all Indigenous workers in Canada.

On June 29, Statistics Canada published a report on increasing automation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It found that after many companies were forced to shut down offices and move workplaces into people’s homes, the need to minimize physical contact motivated many employers to increasingly rely on technology rather than people.

Watch: As automation encroaches into the workforce, does ‘upskilling’ even work? Story continues below.

While Statistics Canada said the effects of increasing automation aren’t completely clear as of now, it found that office jobs are bound to face a higher degree of automation than other sectors.

This is a big change from before the pandemic, when the risk of automation was mostly associated with workers in the trades or service jobs, Statistics Canada said in the report.

“Professional occupations,” like those in the law or government services, face almost no risk of automation.

The CCAB, which is behind the study on Indigenous workers, found that while many studies had been put together on the increasing threat of automation in Canada workplaces, none had focused on Indigenous populations.

Hands holding tablet on blurred automation machine as background.
B4LLS via Getty Images
Hands holding tablet on blurred automation machine as background.

“This really puts a lens on the difficulties and potential barriers Indigenous people face to be on an equal playing field,” said Tabatha Bull, the chief executive at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business in an interview with the Canadian Press.

Numbers from Statistic Canada show that some of the most vulnerable populations will be affected by automation — 57.5 per cent of Canadians who don’t have education beyond a high school diploma face the highest risk being replaced on the job by automation.

Many of positions in the least affected “professional” industries require at least a post-secondary education.

Indigenous peoples not represented in ‘low risk’ jobs

Indigenous populations in Canada have faced ongoing systemic racism in several aspects of their lives — whether it be with inadequate housing with a lack clean, drinking water, or access to education.

A study by the Council of Ministers of Education Canada points to the reasons why Indigenous workers are usually not represented in “professional occupations” that require post-secondary degrees. It found that Indigenous youth often have to move away from their families to pursue their education, since schools in First Nations communities often “struggle to attract and retain” teachers and specialized staff that can provide the support they require.

When young Indigenous students move to other districts for schools with better resources, they are often faced with social issues in a new, intimidating environment, the study said. The effects of this can lead to many Indigenous youth dropping out or not pursuing further education.

On top of that, the study also found that parents of Indigenous students also faced barriers to helping with their children’s education — whether it’s direct racism, poverty, or because of their own negative experiences with residential schools and the Canadian education system.

“This really puts a lens on the difficulties and potential barriers Indigenous people face to be on an equal playing field.”

- Tabitha Bull, chief executive at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business

“We really need to look at our corporations and businesses and how we are educating senior leadership, at the board level and government about the history and the gaps that exist,” said Wendy Cukier, the founder of the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University.

The CCAB report also pointed out that COVID-19 has shown the disproportionate impacts pandemic measures have put on Indigenous economies. While the transition to working from home seemed easy for some, many Indigenous peoples work in rural communities where internet service is unreliable and couldn’t make the switch, the report said.

“This is a current and ongoing example of how technological change can contribute to a rise in economic inequality,” the CCAB said in the report.

Both Statistics Canada and the CCAB have clarified in their reports that automation may not necessarily be a negative thing — the automation of certain jobs could make way for new jobs that work in tandem with technological advances. But the rate at which that change will take place and how it will happen is still unknown.

The CCAB made several recommendations in their report on how the problem can be addressed, starting with helping Indigenous populations reach higher levels of education.

They also suggest that companies that employ Indigenous workers keep watch of rising trends in automation so that they can find ways to equip their employees with skills that reduce the risk of their jobs becoming redundant.

“The solution will require greater collaboration between all tiers of government, the private sector, and Indigenous leadership and community-based organizations,” the study concluded.

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