Co-operators sets up $1m employability scheme for Canada’s Indigenous youth

The initiative is part of a three-year reconciliation strategy at the co-op

Canadian insurer Co-operators has launched a CA$1m scheme to support the cultural safety, personal resilience, and employability of Indigenous youth.

The Indigenous Youth Employability Initiative, which will run within Co-operators, in the broader co-operative sector, and beyond, is part of a three-year reconciliation strategy at the business, aligning its corporate goals with a long-term partnership with Indigenous employees, organisations, and communities.

Input into the initiative came from the four-day Indigenous Youth Employability Gathering hosted by Co-operators, the Howl Experience, and the Nakoda Youth Council last October. Its 51 participants included 26 youth participants and community partners representing 20 communities and six provinces.

“The fathering highlighted for us the challenges that Indigenous youth face in entering the workforce, from language barriers and transportation to housing obstacles, and the opportunities we have to address those,” said Co-operators CEO and president Rob Wesseling. “Both the employability initiative and our broader reconciliation strategy aim to help tackle these challenges and I look forward to continuing our journey of learning and listening to elevate Indigenous voices and experiences both in and outside of Co-operators.”

Participants at the gathering identified cultural awareness and understanding in the workplace as key issues, adding that designated cultural spaces, Indigenous mentors, and opportunities for cultural practices should all be a focus of the employability initiative.

As it implements its reconciliation strategy, Co-operators says it will act as a pilot organisation for implementing the recommendations from the gathering.

These include:

  • reconvening the participants to maintain momentum
  • establishing a mentorship programme for Indigenous youth
  • empowering youth to lead employability conversations in their own communities
  • finding ways to help youth tell their stories to more employers
  • creating more opportunities like the Gathering to support youth in being heard
  • identifying ways for participating organisations to support youth with wraparound services.

“We share with Co-operators the vision that everyone can contribute to improve the lives of others in their communities,” said Adam Robb, founder and co-director of the Howl Experience. “The gathering and the employability initiative will result in programmes that respect and promote Indigenous cultures and voices in workplaces. We’re proud to partner with an organisation like Co-operators to bring these to life for the next generation of Indigenous youth entering the workforce.”

Over the next three years, Co-operators says it will announce a number of initiatives and changes to its business practices to align its operations with its reconciliation strategy. These fall under three pillars: respecting Indigenous ways as a business; embracing truth and reconciliation as a financial services co-op and investor; and collaborating, building bridges, and fostering friendships with Indigenous communities.

“Participating in the creation of our reconciliation strategy and starting to witness it come to life within our workplace gives me confidence that we are working towards a more inclusive future for our company and the communities in which we live,” said Cory Benson, claims representative at Co-operators.

Measures set to be put in place over the next three years include increasing career opportunities for Indigenous talent through partnerships with local Indigenous employment organisations; creating an Indigenous advisory forum; and engaging and consulting with Indigenous neighbours, clients, members, employees, and partners about their needs and challenges when it comes to finding appropriate insurance coverage.

Click here to see the Co-operators Reconciliation strategy