"Learning from Experience ... Aboriginal Programs in the Resource Industries"

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Success Factors

What Factors Contribute to Success in Aboriginal Programs?

It is important to keep in mind that there is no single best approach. Success arises from the interaction of many factors. What works in one situation may not necessarily transfer to success in other circumstances. Companies must determine what types of programs are appropriate in their situation and take a flexible approach to the design and implementation of their own Aboriginal programs and practices.

Nevertheless there are some overall factors that contribute to success. They include:  

  • Relationships are critical. Long-term relationships with Aboriginal communities are the key to developing trust and understanding. 
  • The level of corporate commitment to Aboriginal relations and how this commitment is communicated throughout the organization. A respectful culture is more likely to develop the relationships necessary for constructive engagement and communication. Senior management must lead Aboriginal corporate policy, and staff at every level must understand what is expected of them in creating a welcoming environment for Aboriginal employees and businesses. 
  • Early engagement and consultation. It is very important to engage the Aboriginal community at an early stage. This is necessary to build trust and lay the foundation for a solid relationship. Early engagement also allows opportunity to explore the expectations of the Aboriginal community and to clarify what opportunities the relationship can and cannot deliver. 
  • The capacity and willingness of the Aboriginal community. Programs and practices that work with one Aboriginal community may not be transferable to others because of differences in culture, capacity to engage and political direction. At the very least, the community must be receptive to engagement. Successful workforce and business development initiatives also depend on level of education, pre-employment skills and the overall wellness of a community.
  • Sufficient time and flexibility. Successful Aboriginal relationships don’t happen overnight. It is important to build in enough time to make a relationship work, and enough flexibility so that programs can be easily modified as experience is gained and conditions change.

Ultimately, success in Aboriginal programs is incremental. Programs cannot be evaluated on a strict success/failure measure. Companies must start with small, manageable projects that help build community capacity and develop a relationship of trust from the outset. The quality of the relationship is key. Everything builds upon that base.

The ACR project also identified a number of additional factors that contribute to the success of Aboriginal programs but are more specific to each of the five program framework areas.  They can be used by companies as a checklist and are described below.

Corporate policy success factors

  • Success in Aboriginal relations requires a clear commitment in corporate policies reinforced by senior management and driven by explicit goals, targets and timetables.
  • Make the business case for building Aboriginal relationships.
  • Success in Aboriginal programs needs to be measured as incremental gains rather than success or failure.
  • Understand the long-term ramifications and complexities of signing agreements and acceding to demands that result from a lack of upfront consultation or relationship building.
  • Seek out and develop either internal or external expertise related to Aboriginal engagement.
  • Companies need to find ways to improve the continuity of Aboriginal relations staff in dealing with Aboriginal communities.

Workforce development success factors

  • In recruiting Aboriginal candidates for training and employment opportunities, broaden the recruiting pool rather than relax standards.
  • Integrate training and employment opportunities.
  • Implement Aboriginal awareness and diversity training sessions at all levels – senior management to front-line staff.
  • Establish formal mentoring programs for Aboriginal people wanting to advance their careers or participate in on-the-job training opportunities.
  • Encourage networks of Aboriginal employees to meet and share experience and mutual support.
  • In recruiting Aboriginal employees for work away from home, ensure there are other members on the crew from the same Aboriginal support group.
  • Offer Aboriginal communities, in particular the elders, a role in recruitment of Aboriginal employees and involvement in the creation and monitoring of programs for Aboriginal employees.  
  • Reach out to Aboriginal students while they are still in school giving them the time and information necessary to make informed choices about their education and career directions.

Business development success factors

  • Invest in strengthening the business capacity of the Aboriginal community.

  • Plan for Aboriginal business participation by matching business opportunities with Aboriginal business capabilities.

  • Ensure that the Aboriginal or Aboriginal/corporate venture has adequate management capacity in place.

  • Use procurement as a tool to provide opportunities for Aboriginal suppliers.

  • In structuring business arrangements with Aboriginal communities, corporate governance needs to follow clear principles which are defined at the outset.

Community relations success factors

  • Relationships are critical. Don’t show up only when you want something.

  • Maintain relationships through the ‘peaks and valleys’ of your business.  

  • Assess where a community is at today before developing a relationship.

  • Develop community profiles because no two communities are alike and each requires a customized approach to involvement.

  • Framework agreements or cooperation protocols may help strengthen relationships with Aboriginal communities and provide industry with a measure of stability and continuity in its operations.

  • Many of the more successful Aboriginal programs work in partnership with other businesses, educational institutions, governments and non-government organizations that have an interest in Aboriginal issues.

Resource stewardship success factors

  • Early engagement, even before a decision is made on whether a project will proceed, is important to building trust, communication and a solid relationship with the Aboriginal community. 

  • Develop an effective consultation process with Aboriginal communities as a means to mitigate risk and maximize opportunities for mutual benefit.

  • Encourage Aboriginal communities to take a leadership role in initiating traditional use studies.

  •  Encourage involvement of Aboriginal communities as partners in integrated resource management processes, and ecological, and fish and wildlife management studies.  

  •  Ensure that priorities for both Aboriginal communities and industry are identified and addressed through meaningful consultation processes.

  •  Community consultation must be carried out in a culturally appropriate way.

ACR Aboriginal Programs Project
January 2006

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