Improving opportunities for Black Canadians is key to economic recovery and prosperity
The past two years have been difficult for all Canadians, but Black History Month offers an opportunity to reflect on the unique and outsized barriers faced by Black people that have been magnified during the pandemic.
Data shows that Black Canadians have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. From high unemployment to declining rates of entrepreneurial startups, the economic effect of COVID-19 on Black communities nationwide is disastrous.
It is essential that, while investing in promoting short-term recovery, we also build a deliberate path to long-term prosperity that is inclusive for all of us. While there is no single solution that can overcome the systemic barriers that have plagued Black people in Canada for centuries, there are pathways to opportunity and success that we must intentionally build. A critical piece of this puzzle that is well within our reach is to ensure that Canada’s skills strategy is inextricably linked to equity, diversity and inclusion.
Even before the onset of COVID-19, black and minority populations typically faced structural barriers to starting a small business or seeking self-employment. These barriers include access to capital and networks, as well as various skills gaps.
Historically, self-employment and entrepreneurship have been the preferred sources of income for this population, simply as a way to make ends meet. Conventional opportunities were closed – overt or systemic anti-black racism meant being rejected or even not considered for many jobs.
The pandemic has dealt another devastating blow. The report “Widening Inequalities: Effects of the Pandemic on Jobs and Incomes” produced by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, Environics and FSC lays bare this unequal impact. It reveals that 45% of racialized workers have found themselves unemployed during the pandemic or had their working hours reduced, or both, compared to 32% of those who are white. Black workers have been particularly hard hit, with 52% reporting either job loss, lost hours, or both.
But the entrepreneurial spirit really showed through the demonstration of a strong desire to succeed. Entrepreneurial businesses and independent businesses have supported families in the past and successfully broken down barriers and created generational wealth.
As we emerge from the pandemic into an economic recovery, the focus on skills development, reskilling and upskilling must be front and center as a fundamental way to help us move forward into a more successful future. Economic recovery depends on a skills strategy for all of us. However, such skills development and training must also be tailored to diverse disadvantaged groups and communities, and tailored to the specific needs of employers, sectors and regions to ensure accessibility and relevance.
This approach is the best way to foster an inclusive recovery in which traditionally marginalized groups like Black Canadians can benefit from skills training.
One such effort can be found in a new partnership between the Black Business Professional Association and the Future Skills Centre. The organizations embarked on a new venture to provide skills, networking and mentorship opportunities aimed at fostering entrepreneurship for the black business community.
The Black African and Caribbean Entrepreneurship Leadership (BACEL) program will support the training and development of more than 400 black entrepreneurs across the country for 20 months. Participants will benefit from business and life skills training, as well as supports and culturally appropriate training and approaches to overcoming identified barriers. This increased capacity will allow Black businesspeople and Black-owned businesses to bounce back and prosper.
Initiatives that respond to the unique realities of communities like this will produce a “win-win-win” — for business, workers and equity. Retraining and upskilling will pave the way to meaningful employment for many people, which is vital for shared prosperity. Only by ensuring widespread access to opportunity and future skills growth can we move forward towards an economic recovery built by all of us.