New pilot looks to boost skills of local workforce

Career Edge employment services co-ordinator for Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington counties Katy Mitchell detailed the new HEAT pilot project last week. (Chad Ibbotson/Gazette staff)




A new pilot project planned for later this year will seek to broaden the skills of the county’s workforce.

Career Edge employment services co-ordinator for Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington counties Katy Mitchell addressed councillors on behalf of the County Workforce Partnership (CWP) during last week’s committee-of-the-whole meeting. Mitchell detailed the CWP’s Helping Employers Acquire Talent (HEAT) pilot project funded through SkillsAdvance Ontario.

Mitchell told councillors that as of June 6, 58 per cent of the Prince Edward County job postings at Career Edge were in the hospitality and tourism sector.

Part of the CWP’s initial work was researching local employment trends and concerns. The CWP worked directly with employers and employees conducting in-depth interviews. Based on that feedback, it became apparent that local candidates can often lack soft and hard skills and businesses can struggle to retain employees season to season. Many small businesses feel they lack the capacity to train and depend on staff hitting the ground running.

“(Employers) seem to be more willing to train the hard skills — which would be, if you’re working in a winery, how to pour a bottle of wine or work a cash register,” said Mitchell. “They don’t seem to have the time to train soft skills”

The CWP applied for the SkillsAdvance Ontario pilot through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development after wrapping up that research last fall. Mitchell said Career Edge will take the lead on the project while representatives from each of the CWP organizations will sit on the pilot’s advisory committee.

The program will offer job seekers soft skills such as time management, conflict management and workplace expectations. It will also offer hard skills such as Smart Serve and Safe Food Handler certifications. There will be opportunities for experiential learning through things like interviews, job shadowing, coaching, and placements. It will also give those prospective employees access the County’s Tourism Ambassador Training Program, a history of the county, and an overview of local resources. The first group is expected to begin training in September.

Mitchell said the program will offer several benefits to employers since it will focus on key issues such as employee retention and reduced turnover of staff. The program will give employers access to a talent pool of motivated candidates that are ready to work. HEAT will include options to train existing employees, giving them more motivation to stay put, and would offer employers coaching and mentorship from job coaches.

“There will be some financial incentives but unlike some of the traditional programs where we would pay the wage for people to work there, there would be less of that in this one,” Mitchell said. “It’s more focused on the training.”

She said there is a plan to create a sector-focused HR toolkit for employers as well.

Eligible employers must have identified job vacancies consistent with the workforce development needs of the sector. Employers can’t hire immediate family members through the program and can’t be receiving any government funds from any other source for the same participant. They also can’t use placement services to replace existing or laid-off employees.

Participants can join the program by being referred by a community partner such as the Prince Edward Learning Centre, Community Living Prince Edward, or Prince Edward Lennox and Addington Social Services. They could also contact Career Edge and speak with an employment counsellor or they could be an existing employee with interest in advancement in the sector. Participants must be unemployed, working less than 20 hours per week, precariously employed or employed with a low household income. They must be at least 18 years old and must not be participating in full-time training, education or any other government training that covers the same areas.

Councillor Barry Turpin said one of the issues in the local hospitality sector is that many student employees return to university or college each fall. Training locals that can keep those jobs past September could make a difference.

“A lot of restaurants lose a lot of employees at that time and they don’t have anybody else,” he said. “The more that get trained at a local level, I think, could be beneficial — this is a good step forward.”

The CWP was formed by the municipality, Career Edge, the Prince Edward County Chamber of Tourism and Commerce, the Loyalist College Training and Knowledge Centre, and the Prince Edward Learning Centre. Created last July, it has three focus areas: supporting development of partnerships amongst community stakeholders, supporting innovation of sector-specific solutions, and better aligning program development with regional workforces needs.