As numerous employers in Peterborough and the Kawarthas and the City of Kawartha Lakes continue to experience a labour shortage in the aftermath of the pandemic, a new workforce development program aims to reverse that trend in a big way.
Matching job seekers with local jobs in demand, the Pathways to Prosperity program focuses on those who are unemployed or underemployed, either as a result of employment-limiting barriers or pandemic-related job loss or uncertainty.
Funded in part by the federal government and the province — Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith announced $2.7 million for the program back in April — Pathways to Prosperity offers job seekers four weeks of Fleming College-provided skills training for various certifications, followed by a five-week local job placement.
With funding in place until March 31, 2023, the program is administered by Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED) in partnership with Fleming College, City of Kawartha Lakes Economic Development, Muskoka-Kawartha Employment Services, and the Workforce Development Board.
For employers who sign onto the program, there is a 50 per cent wage subsidy for each participant’s full placement period. In addition, each participating employer’s supervisors and managers will be offered free leadership training and support to ensure a successful placement experience.
The program is targeting food service line cooks and general labourers in construction, manufacturing, and agriculture as positions to be filled.
“Our goal is to address the needs that our businesses have been sharing with us,” explains PKED President and CEO Rhonda Keenan. “We know employers are having a hard time with workforce, but we also know we don’t have a strong group participating in the labour market. COVID impacted so many people, over and above others having some barriers to employment.”
“We also know businesses have been scrambling to try and figure everything out — to adjust, pivot, and do those things everyone was talking about constantly during COVID. This program addresses the needs of both job seekers and employers.”
Rebecca Mustard, Economic Development Manager for the City of Kawartha Lakes, notes the Pathways to Prosperity program “is targeted at key economy-driving industries” in the region.
“This is all about how we get our labour force and the jobs available matched for community prosperity,” she says.
“All four sectors — food service, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture — are what we call export industries in economic development. They bring external wealth into the community. You really want to have a solid foundation of those industries, and this program is an opportunity to increase their workforce.”
According to Statistics Canada, more than 367,000 jobs were vacant in Ontario in May. The Pathways to Prosperity program will give job seekers in Peterborough and the Kawarthas and the City of Kawartha Lakes the skills and the certifications they need for high-demand local jobs.
“Job seekers are getting key certifications they’ll need when working,” Mustard explains. “That’s big for job seekers but it’s also great for employers, because they’re getting employees who have some of the basic requirements they need to be working in their facilities or at their locations.”
The program, which has taken in its first few cohorts for construction and agriculture general labourers, is now accepting new participants — both employers and job seekers — for all four sectors.
Those looking for work who want to participate can register for an information session at investptbo.ca/jobmatch/jobseekers/ or by contacting any of the employment service agency partners listed at investptbo.ca/jobmatch. Employers who want to participate can apply at investptbo.ca/jobmatch/employers/.
Keenan notes the training aspect of the program alone makes it invaluable for job seekers who want to pursue a new career or a career change.
“That education sets you up for so many career paths,” she says. “It’s basic but solid foundational training.”
Mustard adds that, while each Pathways to Prosperity work placement is limited to five weeks, the intent is to match job seekers with opportunities that may lead to permanent employment.
“We have that end goal — sustainable, long-term employment for the individual and for the business,” she says.
For job seekers reluctant to re-enter the workforce because they believe only low-paying jobs are available, Keenan points out the “growth potential” associated with entry-level positions at many local employers.
“While you might start at a lower rate, you can move very quickly up to a higher rate when you have the skills an employer needs,” she says. “There are good-paying jobs in the community, but employers need skilled workers to fill them. Pathways to Prosperity is a way to get those skills, many of which are also transferable to other jobs.”
For job seekers who may have past preconceptions about jobs in the food service, construction, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors, Keenan notes the Pathway to Prosperity program provides a way for them to test the waters.
“We’re creating a safe and coached approach to entering those jobs so it’s not scary and overwhelming,” she says. “The training gives them that foot in the door to decide whether the job is something they want to do.”
If a job seeker signs up for a particular sector and discovers it isn’t right for them, Keenan notes, they can re-apply for placement in another sector.
“This program is all about helping people learn about an industry, get some fundamental basic skills to succeed, get placement with an employer to see what it’s like to work in that industry, and have the supports for the first year of their employment to be able to navigate working for that employer in that industry,” Mustard adds. “We want to set them up for success.”
Mustard says employers in the City of Kawartha Lakes “are really interested in the program,” adding “there are jobs waiting at their end.”
“We want people to want to work in their communities. We want people to work in an industry they’re interested in, using this program to launch them into that industry. Getting back out there is tough. This program is designed to help you do that and succeed. We will cheer you along and give you all that we can to ensure you succeed.”
Keenan adds employers in Peterborough and the Kawarthas are also eager to participate in the program.
“Peterborough and the Kawarthas and the City of Kawartha Lakes are such great places to work,” Keenan says. “We have so many passionate businesses that do so many great things. They need workers right now. We want to see people working where they live. This is a great way to be able to attain skills, support our local businesses, and grow our local economy.”
“The program is exciting because it involves economic development, our post-secondary college institution delivering training the way they do very well, and our employment service organizations,” Mustard says. “All of us are working together to support the economy from a position that looks at the job seeker and the needs of the employer, and the growth and sustainability of each sector.”
This Employment Ontario program is funded in part by the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario.
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