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Keith McIntosh, the CEO of Fredericton-based software-testing firm PQA, has 60 Indigenous employees and has offered courses across Canada to recruit more. (CBC) A New Brunswick business owner who resolved to hire Indigenous workers suggests having the goal is one thing. Finding a way through the obstacles is another.

Keith McIntosh is the CEO of Fredericton-based tech company PQA Testing and the founder of PLATO Testing, which employs more than 60 Indigenous software testers across Canada. The workers are there and they do good work. But you need to be accommodating for some of the challenges they face now and in the past. ​McIntosh, who is Indigenous himself, said many Indigenous people looking for work have to overcome drawbacks, including living in rural areas and lacking a work history.

The kind of training they tend to get is also significant, he said.

"First Nations and Indigenous people across Canada [are] over-represented in manual trades and manual employment and labour and very under-represented in the white collar and technology field." Education important

And many do not complete high school, he said, which creates other obstacles.

"If you don’t have a high school education, that limits you from a lot of jobs right there. And if you don’t get high school, it means you don’t go to university."

Feelings of being unwelcome in a new city or town also discourage some Indigenous workers from relocating.

McIntosh was responding to an Atlantic Province Economic Council report that said New Brunswick stood to gain a great deal if the province could close the labour gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers.

McIntosh agreed but suggested companies have to understand what Indigenous workers face.

"I had a very good friend of mine who’s actually the president of PLATO and he told me walking down the streets in a big city, and you see the signs for IBM, CGI, or whatever, and he’s like ‘I don’t know anybody who works there. Nobody in that company ever looks like me.’"

This can be intimidating to prospective employees who are Indigenous and may not expect a welcome face if they go inside, McIntosh said. Training course

When asked how he developed his Indigenous workforce, McIntosh said his company just decided it wanted to employ First Nations people in IT.

"So we set up a training course. And we said, ‘What keeps people from taking and completing. And if it’s too long or too far away, then those are the barriers."

McIntosh said the company built a course delivered in First Nation communities and made it short concise enough so people weren’t overwhelmed.

"I have personal experience of a four-year university degree. Who can plan that far ahead? So let’s make it short enough so they can complete and get into the workforce and get them started."

Those completing the course were guaranteed full-time jobs. Build confidence To garner interest and recruit applicants, the company worked with the Joint Economic Development Initiative, known as JEDI, which promotes Indigenous economic development in the province.Twelve of the 15 applicants were accepted, and 10 graduated, said McIntosh, whose company has held similar training 13 times across Canada as it builds it software testing network.McIntosh said other businesses need to be more accommodating and accepting of expectations and cultures of the community."You need to build the trust and reach out and be patient. The workers are there and they do good work. But you need to be accommodating for some of the challenges they face now and in the past."With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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