One company’s innovative approach to creating its own skilled labour force

On-the-job training
One company’s innovative approach to creating its own skilled labour force

Great news! Atlantic Canada has jobs. Lots of them. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, between April and June of this year, 11,000 jobs went unfilled in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Yet, despite high regional unemployment rates, these jobs continue to go unfilled. So what’s the problem?

There just aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the need.

The solution seems obvious enough – unemployed people need to acquire the education and skills required for whatever industry is in need of workers. But with tuition in many of the region’s universities creeping up to almost $6,000 for a year of undergraduate education, paying for school is a struggle for many.

Aaron Beale is the vice president academic and external for Dalhousie University’s Student Union. Almost daily, he talks with current and past students who are starting their adult lives with an overwhelming amount of debt. He believes that the skills and education gap could get worse as a result of these financial issues. “This could really impact student enrollment in the future. One of the biggest factors in going to school, is seeing an older sibling go,” explains Beale. “But more and more, these younger siblings are seeing their older brothers and sisters ending up crippled with debt, unable to find a good job, or having to move out west to pay off debt.”

According to Kevin Hamm, president and CEO of Halifax’s VistaCare Communications, there is another alternative: training provided by employers, designed to produce employees with the skills they need to reach company goals. As a provider and installer of communications and building security systems (including fibre optics and communication cabling), Hamm says the only thing holding his company back from realizing its growth potential is that he can’t find enough trained people to fill the void.

Currently, VistaCare pays their trainees to ride along in their trucks. The company doesn’t see any immediate payback, but they do it because they know that in the end, they’ll have a well-trained employee. Meanwhile, Hamm is also working on creating something new: a training program he’s informally coined “VistaCare U.”

“We would bring young people in and teach them from a curriculum which, in this case, would be everything from fibre splicing to cable structuring,” says Hamm. “We want to work with our province and local college to create a professional program with a professional designation for this type of work.” The idea is to enrol trainees in a 10 to 12 week, in-class program that equips them with the knowledge base to fill VistaCare’s needs. After the successful completion of the program, VistaCare will have an employee with an ideal skill set, and the trainee will be guaranteed a job.

Hamm thinks this model could work for other industries too. There’s a healthy supply of able-bodied people, with or without post-secondary educations, looking for good jobs. And many of them have a strong aptitude for learning specific skills. Training this population could be the perfect way to fill those 11,000 Atlantic Canadian jobs.

By Sarah Sawler

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