County Workforce Partnership brings HEAT to municipality

Prince Edward Learning Centre executive director Kathy Kennedy. (Adam Bramburger/Gazette staff)

Skills training program to develop talent for tourism, culinary sectors



Warm summer days bring tourism dollars to Prince Edward County, but soon a different brand of HEAT will be working to ensure local businesses can better accommodate those visitors.

On Thursday, the County Workforce Partnership (CWP) — a coalition including Career Edge, the Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC), the County’s community development department, the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce, and Loyalist College — introduced Helping Employers Acquire Talent (HEAT).

The partners spent a year honing a proposal to train a skilled workforce to support the municipality’s tourism and culinary sector. Within three months, the partnership was able to make application to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities for funding. Mid-way through the project, the CWP was submitted a report that Career Edge program lead Katy Mitchell said they felt “had strong, well-thought out strategic plans and measurable recommendations for the sector.”

The ministry agreed and the CWP received an invitation to apply for funding as one of 10 Skills Advance Ontario pilot training projects. That’s where HEAT comes in.

With help from its partners, HEAT will train 55 people in the first year. Thirty-five of those enrolled will be new hired motivated to work in the sector. Another 20 will be existing employees at tourism and culinary businesses identified as having potential to advance in their organization or in the sector.

Kathy Kennedy, the PELC executive director says her organization will work on “dishing the dream” by creating individual lesson plans for each of the participants to grow and thrive.

“What we’ll do is we’ll work with each participant to set a vision for their future work self,” she said. “We’ll work to understand and assess their essential skills like literacy, numeracy, working with others, and communication and they’ll understand how to improve these skill and work on upgrading these skills so they can achieve their identified career goals, career paths, and their dream.” Kennedy explained many of the skills can also be transferable to other sectors.

Sam Parsons, the co-owner of the Parsons Brewing Company, is a member of an advisory committee from within the sector. She said building the labour force is important to businesses’ success. She was particularly excited about creating a leadership path for the existing employees involved.

“When we assess their skill set, we are able to create a path for them. They are people who are going to be engaged in this community,” Parsons said. “It really demonstrates we are invested in our young adults and providing leadership. We are not necessarily hiring for skills, we are hiring for attitude. I am a big believer skills can be taught with practice and through learning.”

Mayor Robert Quaiff said after a warm summer, it felt weird to be celebrating HEAT, but he’d take it. He said from his first engagement with the CWP he’s been impressed.

“It’s exciting knowing that in just a few short weeks, the County Workforce Partnership has launched this innovative pilot project to give employees the tools they need to find meaningful work here in Prince Edward County. Based on everything I’ve heard so far, I’m confident this project will be perceived positively by both current and future employees and employers.”

Quaiff also said he could see the local solution being transferred to other sectors in the county to bolster an economy that is already strong, but struggles with attracting workforce.

“The challenge to maintain staff season-to-season is a real impediment to business expansion and while the first thought might be to look outside the county to solve this problem, we believe there are resources right here in our backyard to address the issue.”

Susan Smith, the representative for MPP Todd Smith said when she first heard about the HEAT program, she thought “Wow, that’s one tough nut to crack” but the more she listened, she was optimistic the program was on the right track to address the issue. She added it may work elsewhere too.

“When you have success, I’m thinning your template may become known as a best practice,” she said.

MP Neil Ellis’ representative, Melissa Davis was in agreement.

“Just like the geography of Prince Edward County and the history makes this a special place for agriculture and natural attractions, the people here in Prince Edward County make it a special place where the entire community comes together to help everybody succeed,” she said. “This should be a template going forward to show how community partnership can really work.”