It’s time to change how we think about job creation in small towns.
March 15, 2021
By: Justin Langan
What works in big cities like Toronto is very different for Indigenous communities like Swan River, Manitoba.
Canadian employers must be more flexible and accommodating to the unique needs of rural young people.
I’m a 22-year-old Metis young person from Swan River, Manitoba. Life is uniquely different from a place like Toronto, or any other urban centre. The problems that rural young people face has produced a stigma that ‘living in a rural community’ is inherently wrong. This isolation that young people face creates a barrier for employers entering the community and for youth hoping to become employed.
There is a serious internet connectivity problem that impacts mental health. Impacts that can lead to alcohol, drug addiction and breeds crime. With high Indigenous populations in Manitoba it also leads to a stigma.
Supports needed for rural youth
There is a lack of support for rural youth who are facing negative mental health challenges, in part due to the digital divide. These factors result in missed employment opportunities.
Coming from a rural community myself, I know firsthand how difficult it is to be in a competition with an urban youth. Urban youth have had far more job opportunities than a rural youth who struggles to maintain a stable internet connection.
As employment moves online due to a changing world, rural communities and the young people in it are left behind. Being left behind is at the forefront of the issues facing rural communities all across this country. It is also leading to an increase in addictions and unemployment, especially for Indigenous youth.
Understanding unique challenges in rural communities
The rural landscape is isolationist in its formation, meaning it is hard to come by opportunities that a youth in an urban centre will have. Cities are built to breed social innovation. Along with the isolation faced by rural youth, it’s important to understand the unique challenges young people in these areas face.
If employers do want to connect with the young people from the prairie provinces, the small towns, and the northern communities, they have to think less about what has worked for young people in Toronto and Vancouver, and more on what will work for the young person at Swan River.
Employers need to work with community job centres and reshape how youth from rural communities access online job opportunities. If not, the youth in these communities will become more isolated and the cycle of unemployment, mental health and addiction will continue.
Numbers from 2016 indicate that the Indigenous employment rate was 8.4 percentage points below the non-Indigenous rate (Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB) and the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University).
I have done a lot of Indigenous youth advocacy locally, provincially, and nationally. I think the biggest ways employers could support Indigenous young people, especially in a rural setting, is to bring jobs and opportunities that create a positive mindset within the community. Indigenous young people want and deserve authentic action.
Think like Swan River
If employers do want to connect with the young people from rural regions, they have to think less about what has worked for young people in Toronto and Vancouver and more on what will work for the young person at Swan River.
By working with job centres, understanding more about the community, and treating rural youth with the same respect and dignity shown to urban youth, employers can help revitalize rural youth employment.
A job cannot solve this problem, but it can be a part of the solution to help rebuild and reshape communities that have suffered in silence for far too long.