What is the Indigenization of engineering?

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Engineering has a diversity issue, and Canadian institutions know this. Thanks in part to the work done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), the idea of “Indigenizing” the profession of engineering and engineering curriculum has been a recurring theme across post-secondary and regulatory bodies across the country in recent years.

According to Queen’s University, “Indigenization can be seen as the re-doing or reaffirming of education to include Indigenous ways of knowing, thinking, feeling and being. It involves elevating the voices of Indigenous peoples, elevating traditional, and cultural knowledge, and intentional inclusion of Indigenous ways of teaching and learning to form and create [educational/teaching] approaches.”

This past month was National Engineering Month – an annual celebration of engineering in Canada spearheaded by Engineers Canada. Its theme of “There’s a place for you in engineering!” is an effort to spark interest in the next generation of engineers, encourage diversity of thought in engineering and celebrate the role that engineers play in society.

In recognition of National Engineering Month, Agilus Work Solutions recently shared the current top engineering jobs in Canada and what you need to know when it comes to recruiting engineers. The great news is that the outlook for engineers in Canada is strong and is becoming one of the busiest sectors in Canada. The bad news is that the engineering sector has been struggling to find or retain enough talent.

In a report to the House of Commons in 2019, Engineers Canada wrote, “to retain Indigenous talent in the engineering profession, it is important to first attract Indigenous people to post-secondary engineering education.” For the most part enrolment in engineering programs in Canada has been growing. In 2020, 22% more degrees were awarded than in 2016.

While efforts to attract more women to post-secondary engineering programs have been seeing success, this has unfortunately not been the case for Indigenous enrolment. “Indigenous people are still greatly underrepresented in engineering education, accounting for only 0.6% of reported undergraduate students,” says Gerard McDonald, CEO of Engineers Canada. “This is around ten times lower than the 4.9% of people in Canada who identify as Indigenous.”

According to a report, commissioned by Engineers Canada and completed by Big River Analytics in 2019, only 0.73% of all engineers in Canada identify as Indigenous, making up 3.15% of the labour force. While those numbers may not immediately seem concerning, it is mentioned in the report that the analysis likely understates the actual underrepresentation of Indigenous peoples among professional engineers. University education at a bachelor’s level or higher is generally required to be certified by the engineering regulators, but only 60% of Indigenous engineers hold that designation, compared to 82% of non-Indigenous engineers.

In June 2020, The Conference Board of Canada in partnership with the Future Skills Centre released a report on “Incorporating Indigenous Cultures and Realities in STEM.” For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the acronym, STEM (sometimes written as STEAM) refers to science, technology, engineering, (sometimes architecture), and mathematics. One of the key findings from the report was “when educators use a culturally responsive curriculum — one that bridges Indigenous ways of knowing with Western science — Indigenous students are more engaged and perform better.”

Another group in Canada who are laser-focused on encouraging Indigenous representation in engineering is IndigeSTEAM. According to the IndigeSTEAM website, “Indigenous people are VERY under-represented in STEM education and careers as many don’t see that STEM is open to them.” Their solution, and one that has been gaining a lot of traction in recent years, is to develop “Two-Eyed Seeing” in STEM subjects.

Introduced by Mi’kmaq Elder Albert Marshall from Eskasoni First Nation, “Two-Eyed Seeing” or “Etuaptmumk” in Mi’kmaw refers to “learning to see with one eye the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing, and with the other eye the strengths of western knowledge and ways of knowing, and to learn to use both eyes together.” Or more simply put — better outcomes are born through a collaboration of two or more unique perspectives.

In June 2021, a group of Canadian researchers – guided by the principle of Etuaptmumk — published a scientific article examining “the work being done to bring Indigenous Peoples, knowledge and perspectives into the dominant structures of engineering education in Canada.” What they found is a broad range of activities being conducted across post-secondary institutions in Canada to increase Indigenous participation in engineering, and the authors agree that a diversified approach is the best way to “strengthen the work to explore the truth, seek reconciliation, and achieve Decolonial Indigenization in engineering education.”

We believe that diversity, inclusion, and equity are integral to our success and our client’s success. Together, with Agilus and Stream Source, we share a goal to secure long-term sustainable employment, partnerships for Indigenous people and businesses, and community investment.

We recognize the value and benefits a diverse workforce brings to our workplace and our clients. Through our partnership with Stream Source, we recognize the need to better understand the history of Indigenous people and their inclusion in resource and energy developments, since much of the development happens in and around these communities. With this knowledge, strong community relationships, and a solid infrastructure, Stream Source is setting new benchmarks and best practice standards across the scope of Indigenous hiring and engagement.

At this time Stream Source operates exclusively in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. If you’re interested in working with Stream Source or want to ensure diversity, inclusion, and equity in your hiring contact us today.