by Galen Simmons, Stratford Beacon Herald
When Collin Lefebvre first moved to Perth County from Chatham in July, he had to accept the first job he was offered just to be able to make ends meet.
As a janitor for Union Gas, Lefebvre was living from paycheque to paycheque, barely able to make rent each month. And without the opportunity to advance in the company, things were looking pretty bleak.
“I couldn’t afford to pay my rent and my car insurance. I was looking for something with more money in manufacturing, and then I heard about (Connect2Skills)… so I took the opportunity and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening because it was something I wanted and it came at the right time,” Lefebvre said.
Connect2Skills is a six-week SkillsAdvance Ontario pilot program created by the Four County Labour Market Planning Board (FCLMPB) with funding from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to prepare adults for a career in Perth County’s manufacturing sector. Through partnerships with Conestoga College and local manufacturers, the free program provided the first session’s participants with four weeks of in-class industry training and a two-week paid job placement.
On Friday, the first six Connect2Skills participants received their certificates of completion during a small graduation ceremony at the Stratford Perth Museum. Before the ceremony began, Gemma Mendez-Smith, the executive director of the FCLMPB, said the program’s six graduates learned everything they need to be employable in manufacturing, and each if them have been hired by the companies at which they completed their work placement.
“What they learned about is what happens in manufacturing. So we had speakers coming in from the different companies around town, talking about what they’re looking for in an employee, what happens in their space. Also we had our employers tell us what they needed people to know. The participants have gone through learning about communication skills, about actually the lean manufacturing way, so that they’re aware of what happens in the workplace and they’ll know some of the terms when they get there.”
While the instructors from Conestoga College focused on introducing participants to the manufacturing world, they also touched on the soft skills most employers expect an employee to have, such as problem solving, punctuality and interpersonal relations.
Having now completed the first session of the pilot program, Mendez-Smith said she and her partners will be making a number of adjustments based on the feedback they received from participants and the manufacturers.
“We originally had 10 (participants) in the classroom, but we ended up with six graduating today. We are working with people who have multiple barriers (to the workplace) and when life happens, sometimes other things take a back seat. So we are working with the participants to help them work through those challenges, but we weren’t able to help everyone with those challenges.”
The next session, which will start on Monday, has been condensed into only four weeks to connect participants with paid work as soon as possible. In addition to that change, Mendez-Smith said the program coordinators have developed a staggered intake system, through which they will train fewer participants in each session, but sessions will held more often than originally anticipated.
“This is such a collaborative effort… Minister (Deb Matthews), minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, is very interested in this pilot project and we see a great future for it in other locations to aid our friends in the manufacturing industry – the employers who so desperately need great staff,” said John Bennetto, manager of the regional resources and planning unit, on behalf of the ministry during the graduation ceremony. “It’s really heartening to see this level of cooperation, and this level of success, and we look forward to the other classes that will be coming up.
“It’s a great pilot and we’re very proud to have it in the western region.”
To learn more about Connect2Skills, visit the program’s Facebook page or contact the FCLMPB’s employment facilitators, Jason Robertson (Jason@planningboard.ca, 226-921-7194) or Nathan Gilmour (Nathan@planningboard.ca, 226-572-9472).
“Always look forward and never look back. That’s the advice I would give to people,” said Kurtis Love, another Connect2Skills graduate, during Friday’s ceremony. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve been through, where you’re from, what kind of experience you’ve had in the work world. Put it behind you. There’s a bright future, move forward and just embrace this opportunity and don’t let anyone take it away from you.”