Workforce group seeks input from businesses

Provincial pilot project focussed on attraction and retention of skilled employees to the North Island

A sweeping pilot project intended to strengthen employment retention, attraction and training on the North Island has proven alternately rewarding and frustrating to those attempting to implement its major features before the year is out. The Coordinated Workforce Initiative, funded through a $210,000 Provincial grant and administered by the Regional District of Mount Waddington, has plugged along, often behind the scenes, since Penni Adams was hired as its coordinator last year. The initiative is meant to bring together a wide range of these “stakeholders” — including large employers, small-business entrepreneurs, School District 85 and North Island College, Community Futures of Mount Waddington, North Island Employment Foundations Services, and first nations — around a common table to establish parameters for attracting, training and keeping skilled workers in the region. “It’s a huge project,” said Adams, a consultant who had just left a job in higher education in Saskatchewan before answering the call to coordinate the effort. “I came in a little behind the eight-ball last August, and I’ve been working to re-engage the stakeholders. It takes a long time to gain momentum.” Adams and RDMW economic development director Neil Smith hope the project picks up a little more of that momentum with stakeholders meeting scheduled for June 21 at Seven Hills Golf and Country Club. At that meeting, participants will be updated on the status of several developments in progress and planned for the coming months, including the launch of an interactive website designed to showcase North Island businesses while also offering potential job-seekers of the skills and training required to move into jobs available in the area. “Our message to the business community is, please get engaged and give us your feedback,” said Smith. “It’s quite a challenge and it’s very hard for the business sector to wrap their heads around the ‘What’s in it for me’ question. We’re setting up these models to help them, but this is the year we have to show something for it.” The pilot project, under scrutiny by provincial authorities eager to see how it might be applied in other regions, was approved in late 2010 for two years of funding. In essence, said Smith, it hopes to show the multitude of private stakeholders involved can jointly — and successfully — provide a variety of workforce support and promotion functions once performed by public and quasi-public offices. “We’re essentially having to reinvent the wheel as a special pilot project to see if a volunteer group of stakeholders can do the same things, with government support,” Smith said. “There used to be more public manpower resources. The schools had more resources; North Island Employment had more resources, North Island College did some work in this area. “This is an effort to coordinate what’s left of us to get this done.” The project is centred around a Workforce Planning and Action Committee, around which orbit other committees dedicated to human resources, education and training, workforce sustainability and aboriginal planning. There have been some notable successes, including a job-shadowing project between School District 85 and Neucel Specialty Cellulose in Port Alice. And the impending launch of the interactive web “portal”, including a searchable database of North Island employers, could prove to be a long-term benefit lasting well beyond the initiative’s two-year run. The web portal is being constructed concurrently with a new website redesign for the RDMW, under a $30,000 contract with Backbone Technology of Vancouver. Smith’s economic development office has already committed to maintain and upgrade the new web portal. “There will be successes and things that are not as successful,” Smith admitted. “But it does need some support in the public realm. It’s up to ourselves how we move forward with this.”

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