The Mi’kmaw Economic Benefits Office (MEBO) has had great success in creating partnerships with large industry across Nova Scotia and in doing so identify both employment and business opportunities for local Aboriginals. MEBO works to prepare and support both individuals and Aboriginal businesses to be part of these opportunities. The Benefits Office will help industry find the workers they need through promotion and recruitment efforts and provide training when necessary. MEBO serves all five First Nation communities in Cape Breton (Unama’ki) and takes a collaborative and business approach to employment and business opportunities with large industry in the region.

MEBO was originally known as the Unama’ki Economic Benefits Office and was established in 2007 to ensure meaningful Aboriginal participation in the $400 million Sydney Tar Ponds Cleanup Project. With great effort from all involved, local Aboriginals were truly engaged in this project. It is this experience that lead to what some now call a very successful Aboriginal economic development model, the “Unama’ki Model”. This success soon lead to the Benefits Office being able to leverage several millions of dollars in funding specifically for training. This training complimented the great efforts of the office in engaging industry, understanding the opportunities and needs and engaging, informing the Unama’ki communities.

The original focus of the benefits office was to engage with the Tar ponds Agency, understand the scope of the project and understand the capacity that existed within the Unama’ki communities and develop an approach to ensure local Aboriginals were engaged in the cleanup. Over the six years of the project, the Economic Benefits Office went to great lengths to ensure communities, individuals and Aboriginal businesses were kept informed of the employment and business needs of the Tar Ponds Agency. The Economic Benefits Office also provided guidance, support and mentorship to local Aboriginal businesses to help them bidding on Tar Ponds contracts. The Economic Benefits Office also put great effort into engaging the five First Nation communities in Cape Breton (Unama’ki) to ensure they were provided with good information and timely information on opportunities and how to engage with the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency and its contractors.

The benefits office will work with industry to provide a process for how they can engage Aboriginals and understand the benefits of having a diverse workforce.

The success at the Tar Ponds Clean up project has given the Economic Benefits Office the confidence and experience to broaden its horizons and pursue new economic opportunities, especially those associated with shipbuilding and the energy sector. During the past two years, the Benefits Office has taken significant steps to engage Irving Shipbuilding and its many contractors. MEBO has developed a strong and constructive relationship with Irving Shipbuilding and the many subcontractors such as Flynn, Cherubini etc.

MEBO has also taken significant steps to engage companies in the energy sector, including Emera Newfoundland Labrador and the Maritime Link and its many sub contractors, including ABB, EUS and PowerTel. MEBO has taken preliminary steps in building relationships with players in the Offshore Oil and Gas sector, the Mining sector, with LNG development as well as potential projects around port development.

Industry will often say they want to engage Aboriginals, but then say they don’t know how. MEBO brings a solution to the table for industry, a proven process to help them successfully engage Aboriginals and build upon their skilled workforce.

As part of its community engagement, MEBO works closely with the Native Employment Officers (NEOs) for each of the Mi’kmaq communities. By engaging the NEOs, the benefits office better engages the communities and through the NEOs gets input from the communities as to their priorities and needs and the NEOs also have a say in who should get into training from their community. MEBO also works collaboratively with other Aboriginal organizations in the province that are involved in economic development and training.

In the past, when industry approached the idea of a diverse workforce, they would simply ask Aboriginal organizations to provide a list of companies and then offer to share information on coming contracts and perhaps put on a couple of information sessions. It has become clear that this limited and simplistic approach to Aboriginal engagement has produced little or no results.

MEBO has developed a more strategic and results driven approach to Aboriginal engagement. Since 2008, MEBO has delivered a very successful series of training programs for Mi’kmaq communities and this is clearly demonstrated by the hundreds of jobs it helped create for local Aboriginals.

MEBO works to build a relationship with industry, to understand their needs and opportunities as well as timelines. It helps industry understand the value of having a diverse workforce, and to recognize the value of engaging Aboriginals to address their need for skilled workers and to address an aging workforce. MEBO works to recognize any barriers to employment and develop a plan to overcome these barriers. It brings a solution to the table for industry and government, a proven process to help them successfully engage Aboriginals and build upon their skilled workforce.

The solution often involves training. MEBO engages industry in all aspects of its training program, from promotion to recruitment, to design of the training program, as well as delivery of the training. Finally, the benefits office encourages industry to provide on the job work experience, hoping that will lead to long-term employment.

MEBO also has a well recognized training program. The success of this training program over the last six years, first under ASEP and now with our Skills Partnership fund (SPF) under Service Canada, has resulted in more than 900 Aboriginals being trained and helped create more than 400 jobs. ACOA and the province of Nova Scotia, Department of Labour and Advanced Education, have been an important partner with MEBO.

MEBOs unique economic development effort has been based upon three pillars, Building Industry Partnerships, Training and Support.

  1. MEBO builds relationships with large industry in Nova Scotia and works to understand their needs and timelines. Our list of industry partners continues to grow and includes Irving Shipbuilding, Flynn Canada, Cherubini, Emera-NL, Port Hawkesbury Paper, Bell Aliant, PowerTel, Emera Utility Services, Shell Oil and others. Building these industrial partnerships is a critical step in our successful training effort, helping to ensure there are real jobs for those we train. MEBO has spent years building these strong relationships with our many industry partners and the trust and respect within these partnerships is starting to show significant results.
  1. MEBO then works to help fill the needs of its industry partners through training. MEBO works hard to engage industry throughout the training effort, from promotion to recruitment, to developing the training program and sometimes even in delivering the training, and providing on the job work training.
  1. To ensure training is successful and employment long-term, MEBO also puts great effort into providing support and on going monitoring. MEBO staff provides support to those in training as well as job coaching to those employed or seeking employment.

MEBO takes a collaborative and business approach to its training initiative, remaining flexible so it can quickly adapt to the economic situation and any new employment opportunities. MEBO is focused on industry and their needs, not on training. Training is simply a tool to ensure Nova Scotia Aboriginals are prepared for these employment opportunities.

The Economic Benefits Office also provides guidance to government and large industry in drafting wording for tender documents so to highlight the importance of engaging Aboriginals in contracts. MEBO then offers its services to assist bidding companies in putting together a strong Aboriginal engagement plan.

MEBO is focused on employment and business opportunities for the five Unama’ki communities, representing some 60% of Aboriginals in Nova Scotia. MEBO works closely with the Mi’kmaq Employment-Training Secretariat (METS), with the Mi’kmaq Native Friendship Center in Halifax, Native Council of Nova Scotia for off reserve Aboriginals and with Ulnooweg Development Corporation when it comes to business development and support. MEBO also works closely with the New Brunswich Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) and MCPEI in sharing information and seeking ways to collaborate on initiatives. MEBO also works closely with Corporate offices in different Unama’ki communities.