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Auditor General Michael Ferguson holds a news conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Nov. 21, 2017.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Globe and Mail

Federal officials asked the auditor general earlier this year to adjust the scope of his review of a key Indigenous skills training program, fearful the audit would miss its mark.

Michael Ferguson's teams are focused on how effective two Indigenous employment programs are at helping people find work — a measure that Employment and Social Development Canada argued takes too narrow a view.

In a July 14 letter sent to the lead auditor, a department official argued a change in focus was needed because zeroing in on whether participants got jobs "may not fully consider the objectives of the Indigenous labour market programs."

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The letter urged Ferguson's team to change its audit plan to "reflect the objective of continuous growth and learning," reads the letter obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The documents say the department expected to get its first look at the preliminary report this week.

A spokesman for Ferguson said the letter is part of regular discussions about an audit's design to make sure the findings and recommendations are useful for the government.

"Ultimately, in accordance with our regular audit process, we obtain acknowledgment of the suitability of the criteria used in each audit from the audited entity's management," Vincent Frigon said in an email.

Neither Frigon nor the department would say what happened after the concerns were raised, citing confidentiality until the audit is public.

Ferguson's auditors are looking at how the department managed, delivered, and monitored programs, but also how it has reported results since April 2010, almost a year after the Aboriginal skills and employment training strategy and the Skills and Partnership Fund were launched.

The department says that over the last seven years, both programs have helped over 350,000 Indigenous people, with almost 133,000 landing a job and more than 60,000 going back to school.

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The strategy is set to expire in the coming months and the Liberals have promised to have a new program in place by April, a few weeks before Ferguson's review is expected to come out in May.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups, such as schools, have also argued that a new jobs strategy should provide more money for groups delivering training programs and focus on the fast-growing cohort of Indigenous youth.

A key request from Indigenous groups is to shift the focus to building employment skills, including for those already in the workforce, rather than measuring success by whether someone in the program lands a job.

The government expects that over the next decade, about 400,000 young Aboriginals will join the workforce, adding to the almost 900,000 already of working age.

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