Benns’ Belief: Revamp of employment services needed

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By Roderick Benns

Roderick Benns is the publisher of The Advocate. An award-winning author and journalist who grew up in Lindsay, he has written several books including Basic Income: How a Canadian Movement Could Change the World.

Benns’ Belief: Revamp of employment services needed

If there’s one consistent message I’ve heard from employers — both as a journalist, and as president of the Lindsay + District Chamber of Commerce — it’s that they’re having trouble finding the right people to work.

I don’t think Kawartha Lakes is unique. There are all kinds of barriers to employment everywhere, whether daycare needs, mental health, transportation lack of skills, disabilities and more.

That’s partly why the Ontario Conservatives are moving ahead with reforming the entire employment services system. On the one hand, this is a laudable goal, and kudos to them for tackling something that needs reform. On the other hand, just how this gets accomplished matters.

In figuring out how best to reform the system, they’ve introduced new “service system managers” (SSMs) in three pilot regions across Ontario. One of those pilot areas is Muskoka-Kawarthas, a vast region that includes Kawartha Lakes. Fleming College is the chosen SSM here, taking the lead to create a more efficient employment service model to meet the needs of everyone, including those with complex barriers to employment, as well as those on social assistance or with a disability.

However, the other two SSMs — with pilots in Peel and Hamilton-Niagara — are going to be run by an Australian private company and a U.S.-based consortium, respectively. Getting private businesses to run social services is a terrible idea. We need fewer corporate interests in our society, not more. Let’s hope the government evaluates and finds the Fleming model superior.

Fleming is partnering with VCCS Employment Services locally, which is getting an enhanced mandate that supports both the client and the employer on job retention for longer periods of time. Under this new model, VCCS will be working with clients to help them keep their jobs.

Does she need extra supports at her new job, like daycare or skills development? Does he have the skills he needs to communicate well and maintain a good working relationship with his colleagues and superior? Is the employer frustrated with something but isn’t sure how to handle it? By being a part of the process for the first year or two, VCCS’s goal is to help people keep their jobs – and help local employers keep their staff.

Peer-to-peer mentoring will also factor into the enhanced mandate of VCCS. There’s also Magnet, the new multifaceted digital job board that includes “intelligent matching” of businesses and job-seekers.

One of VCCS’s new tools is a virtual-reality career explorer. Participants hook up to a device that gives them an immersive experience of what it feels like to be a welder or a bartender or hundreds of other jobs.

There’s no doubt that employment services are ripe for change in Ontario. It will be paramount to ensure that change leads to better outcomes for job seekers and local employers.

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