Canada’s environmental sector is forecast to see 173,000 net environmental job openings by 2025 — but effectively filling these roles may be a challenge. Creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce could be the answer to continued sector growth while providing meaningful employment to those that often face barriers to recruitment — including Indigenous Peoples.

Studies continue to show that the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers in productivity and profitability. For example, the comprehensive McKinsey study “Why Diversity Matters,” indicates companies that have higher degrees of racially and ethnically diverse employees have a 35 per cent performance advantage over companies that are white and monocultural.

A more inclusive workforce will only strengthen the growing green economy. But many barriers still stand in the way. As the environment sector faces disparities and difficulties in recruitment and retention of diverse talent it must take extra steps to create training, mentorship, and professional opportunities that are specifically tailored to underrepresented groups.

According to the Environmental Careers Organization (ECO) Canada 2021 report on diversity, only 18 per cent of environmental workers were visible minorities. How can Canadians support change and accelerate the recruitment of Indigenous Peoples in the green workforce?

Stewardship and strategic perspectives

Environment Journal brought together a panel of experts to discuss this important issue and share some solutions.

Brenden Stephen, a business development representative at ECO Canada, provided his perspectives on strategies to support Indigenous recruitment and the current tools and programs available to help.

ECO Canada works together with Indigenous communities and organizations to provide entry-level training to groups of students, so they can perform environmental work at an assistant level. Image Credit: ECO Canada.

When it comes to Indigenous recruitment and partnerships, “the most important thing is meaningful input and dialogue with the various Indigenous communities,” said Stephens.

“There are huge benefits to having Indigenous input and meaningful partnership with First Nations and in the environment industry,” stated Stephens. “No one knows about the land and resources as well as them. They have in-depth traditional knowledge.”

Stephens was joined by Samantha Whitney, program coordinator for the Tsuut’ina Nation Employment Resource Center, which helps people find meaningful employment and coordinate training programs for community members, and Angel Ransom, director of operations at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition (FNMPC).

Whitney was integral in coordinating ECO Canada’s Building Environmental Aboriginal Human Resources (BEAHR) Indigenous Training Program to assist Indigenous youth to further their awareness in the environmental field and to network and attain employment.

The BEAHR program helps First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Canada develop local environmental champions and foster job creation in the green economy.​ The suite of training programs is tailored to Indigenous communities to provide entry-level opportunities in the environmental field. The courses offered provide introductory training to those who want to work in the environmental sector in Canada.

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The BEAHR program provides training for a variety of roles, such as Environmental Site Assessment Assistants, Environmental Monitoring Coordinator, and Land Use Planning Coordinator.

“It’s a great stepping-stone and introduction to the sciences and higher education,” said Whitney, who explained how her students are inspired to get involved with careers they didn’t know about before entering the program.


Angel Ransom, director of operations at the First Nations Major Projects Coalition. Image Credit: Angel Ransom.

She also emphasized the importance of appreciating traditional knowledge. “I think it’s important when we’re talking about traditional knowledge from Elders, we appreciate how they identify resources. Where was the good water and where were the good crops being grown? This knowledge is important and the connections that have been made are important,” said Whitney.

Ransom grew up in the community of Nak’azdli Whut’en and now holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Planning from the University of British Columbia, specializing in the unique field of Indigenous Planning. Much of her work is focused on community development, natural resources management, and impact assessments. Most recently, she led the development of the FNMPC’s Major Projects Assessment Standard and Guide to Effective Indigenous Involvement in Federal Impact Assessment.

Ransom emphasized that recruitment of Indigenous Peoples in the environment sector is extremely important and should be designed in such a way that involves Indigenous community members for optimal efficacy.

According to a poll undertaken during the webinar, the biggest barrier to Indigenous recruitment is that recruiting companies don’t understand how to engage with Indigenous communities. The second largest barrier is the lack of resources in Indigenous communities, including support systems, computers, and internet connectivity.

The poll results resonated with the panelists, who emphasized the importance of providing equitable resources, such as seed funding for training and access to better technology and connectivity. Some tools and programs are available, but more widely accessible resources are needed.

Ransom recommends that recruiters are mindful of the communities they are entering and echoed Stephens comments about providing meaningful dialogue. She also acknowledged that resource challenges are an ongoing issue in several First Nations communities.

“The FNMPC realizes there’s some great training programs out there but not everyone has the ability to be able to afford or relocate. I’m helping to design tools from an Indigenous world view that are made available at no cost,” said Ransom.

The guides will help Indigenous workers to prepare an environmental impact assessment, write an effective proposal, prepare and Indigenous knowledge study, and more. The tools will be informative and accessible.

Pictured above: Rayrock Mine Site Visit with Contaminated Site Management students and co-trainers, members of the Kwetı̨ı̨ɂaà Elders Committee, staff from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Tłįchǫ Government.

Rayrock Mine Site visit with Contaminated Site Management students and co-trainers, members of the Kwetı̨ı̨ɂaà Elders Committee, staff from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and Tłįchǫ Government. The Tłı̨chǫ Government worked closely with staff from the Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan (FCSAP) and ECO Canada to customize the curriculum of the BEAHR program. Image Credit: Tłı̨chǫ Government.

The panel provided an important conversation about the struggles of transformation and the strategies available to help overcome obstacles to a more inclusive workforce in the environment sector. (To watch the entire panel discussion, click here.) The panel also pointed to a comprehensive strategy paper that ECO Canada had recently released.

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Solutions and next steps

ECO Canada’s National Workforce Strategy identifies 12 solutions to help bridge the environmental talent gaps with recognition of the importance of increasing diversity among the workforce being present in several of them.

The report was a team effort of 41 individuals from 34 organizations representing industry employers, industry and professional associations, educators, diversity organizations, and governments for their contribution to the workforce strategy.

The 12 solutions identified were as follows:

  1. Provide end-to-end support to remove the barriers around the supply, attraction, integration, and retention of underrepresented workers.
  2. Address workplace barriers, such as culture, amenities needed, and work environment, to improve inclusiveness.
  3. Offer career development programs and pathway information for diverse groups to increase representation throughout career levels, improve integration, and advancement to leadership roles.
  4. Elevate the profile of the environmental sector, professionals, and careers through broad-based and targeted awareness campaigns to enhance perception.
  5. Map and assess competency requirements and demand by experience/role level to develop capacity and recognize the value of experience within the sector.
  6. Engage, reintegrate, and retain individuals taking maternity or parental leaves.
  7. Support employees requiring unplanned personal emergencies and leave requirements.
  8. Develop experiential learning opportunities for career and job seekers and support capacity building among employers, such as co-op and internships, mentoring programs, etc.
  9. Increase capacity within the education system to support in-demand and growing occupations and environmental specializations, such as micro-credential/up-skilling or program expansion.
  10. Remove educational barriers through financial supports to attain credentials and PSE such as micro loans.
  11. Develop new or enhance existing environmental competency or occupational standards for career awareness, competency assessment and recognition, and professional development.
  12. Promote talent management best practices, tools and resources for capacity building among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

These proposed solutions for more diverse employment in the environment sector apply to the Indigenous population. There has also been a push for Indigenous partnership and leadership specifically to help actualize national climate action commitments.

Canada’s strengthened climate plan, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy, builds on the foundational principles of Indigenous climate leadership, including:

  • Recognizing the unique realities, needs, and priorities of Indigenous peoples across and within distinctions;
  • Respecting and promoting self-determination;
  • Advancing early and meaningful engagement;
  • Incorporating inclusiveness-by-design principles in all of its climate actions;
  • Advancing co-development and other collaborative approaches to find solutions;
  • Creating a space for Indigenous voices across and within distinctions;
  • Positioning Indigenous peoples to have a say at governance tables; and,
  • Supporting Indigenous approaches and ways of doing, by acknowledging traditional, local, and Indigenous Knowledge systems as an equal part in policy development, programs, and decision-making.
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Since the launch of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, the Government of Canada has provided over $900 million in investments to support Indigenous-led projects on climate adaptation planning, clean energy, climate monitoring, and more.

Certain provinces have been more proactive than others. Several First Nations in British Columbia recently received funding to develop alternative energy projects and advance energy efficiency in their communities through the British Columbia Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative (BCICEI), with provincial support through CleanBC.

“Together with New Relationship Trust and Pacific Economic Development Canada, we are providing critical funding to 10 Indigenous communities across B.C. to develop projects that will help them achieve energy independence, support economic development and reduce reliance on diesel,” said Bruce Ralston, B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. “We know the importance of building partnerships and creating opportunities with Indigenous communities and businesses in our efforts to decarbonize community energy systems.”

These energy projects range in size and scope, from assisting the Penelakut Tribe install a solar photovoltaic system at the community school to equipping the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre with a biomass system to supply hot water heating.

“Developing clean-energy sources that suit the needs of individual communities is a fundamental part of First Nations’ ability to take control of their own community infrastructure, contribute to a greener economy and create employment opportunities for their members,” said Murray Rankin, B.C.’s Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “A sustainable energy future is a goal we share with First Nations and everyone in B.C., and projects like BCICEI play a valuable role in bringing that future into the present.”

It’s time to see more of the same in communities across Canada.  Indigenous inclusivity in the environment sector will lead to a more prosperous environment sector, a more sustainable environment, and a more equitable distribution of employment opportunities.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Two upcoming environment industry events are focused on supporting Indigenous inclusion:

  • ECO Canada is hosting the virtual ECO Impact 2022 Conference on February 2 and 3. One of the breakout sessions is entitled: Making it Meaningful: Indigenous Workplace Inclusion. For further information, click here.
  • The FNMPC is also hosting a hybrid conference on April 25 and 26 to help support Indigenous leadership in the energy transition. The two-day hybrid event, Toward Net Zero by 2050, will host Indigenous leaders, industry experts, policymakers, and investors across Canada. For further information, click here.


Connie Vitello is editor of
Environment Journal.




Featured image credit: Guillaume Jaillet @unsplash.

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