County Workforce Partnership outlines future plans

Prince Edward Chamber of Tourism and Commerce manager Emily Cowan speaks at Shire Hall earlier this year. (Chad Ibbotson/Gazette staff)




A partnership of five local organizations is looking to create tools to help county businesses retain and attract employees.

Last week Prince Edward County Chamber of Tourism and Commerce manager Emily Cowan briefed members of the Community and Economic Development Commission on market studies conducted by the County Workforce Partnership (CWP) and plans moving forward.

The CWP was formed last fall by Prince Edward Learning Centre, the chamber, Career Edge, the municipality’s community development department, and the Loyalist College Training and Knowledge Centre. The partnership was formed as part of a Sector Planning Partnership Grant funded through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. The grant allowed the CWP to begin a research project targeted to the agri-food and tourism sector which would assess local labour market issues.

Two researchers were tapped, one to collate existing statistics both locally and regionally, the second to conduct one-on-one interviews with employers in the sector. The lengthy interviews were recorded, transcribed and included in the CWP’s report.

Cowan said much of the information gathered confirmed what has been seen in similar studies undertaken by the county’s community development department.

“There is a great potential for growth, there are jobs available,” she said. “There are also barriers to employment for many residents of Prince Edward County.”

She said these potential employees would benefit from training programs aimed at raising their skill levels and removing some of those barriers.

“Many of our residents are already contending with transport and housing issues, however, the CWP and the whole network can certainly remove their employment barriers by training them for the jobs that are available right now,” she said.

After gathering all of the information, the CWP drafted a list of action items. Cowan said one of those items would be to develop a human resources toolkit for employers. The Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development’s Ontario Labour Market Partnerships program includes funding and Cowan said the CWP is writing a concept paper requesting some dollars to create the toolkit.

She said the partnership has found employers can benefit from training when it comes to onboarding, orientation, and establishing a communicative relationship with employees.

“Our research found that if employers were encouraged to build effective onboarding programs, orientation plans, employee handbooks — just to ensure there are up-to-date policies and procedures so they were compliant with legislation — would be so helpful for a new employee and [there would be] a much better chance of them staying long term with the business,” she said.

In addition to the HR toolkit, the partnership will be looking to compile a training asset inventory. The inventory would include information on funding for training, locations, and qualified trainers. It’s envisioned there will be an online forum for employers to discuss their needs and possibly work together to pool training resources.

Cowan said the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development office in Belleville is currently advocating to get a SkillsAdvance Ontario (SAO) program for Prince Edward County. She said the ministry is going through the 30 Sector Planning Partnership Grant submissions and will be choosing 10 groups that could take on an SAO project.

“Our fingers are crossed that one of those will be us,” said Cowan.

The SAO program would provide free training to those who have barriers to employment and who have a low skill level.

“They get six weeks in a classroom, then six weeks on the job, and then back to the classroom again and at the end of it, they have a job at that employer’s office,” Cowan said. “That’s all free of charge, that’s all funded.”

The Elevate Plus Training Program in Belleville is targeted toward the manufacturing sector and has been very successful, Cowan said. She said a similar program in Prince Edward County might be focused on customer service or agri-food.

The most important thing, however, will be to have employers on board.

“The number one thing you need to do with an SAO or an Elevate model is to make sure that you have employers who are ready to engage and be a part of the process, which works out for them because at the end of the day they will have trained employees that were trained for free,” she said.

Lastly, the CWP will look to encourage and highlight those who are already doing good work when it comes to training, orientation, and onboarding. In September this year, the CWP will be hosting a gala awards ceremony to celebrate those employers.

“We have amazing employers in this county, they work very hard to ensure that when they bring their employees on, that they are looked after,” she said.

She said the awards could also motivate other employers to do the same.