Labour challenges highlighted during Kenney visit to Swift Current

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MP Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister of Multiculturalism makes a point to Rem Enterprises General Manager Richelle Titemore and Cypress Hills Grasslands MP David Anderson during a tour of Rem Enterprises on Saturday.

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Kenney highlighted the potential of the Canada Job Grant as a way for business, along with both the provincial and federal governments, to provide access to training initiatives to fill job vacancies.

"The whole idea of the Job Grant came from consultations like those I've been having today in Swift Current, where employers told us they wanted to have a bigger role in training. The governments in Canada spend hundreds of millions of dollars on skills development for unemployed folks, but too often that does not actually result in the people who receive the training getting hired. It's the employers, the businesses who actually do the hiring, the job creation. And the idea behind the Canada Job Grant is the employers, especially we hope small and medium sized businesses, would nominate individuals for particular training. They would put some money into it. We would also offset some of the costs. The unemployed individual would have a guaranteed job at the end of it."

With the provinces making a counter proposal to their commitments to the national job training program after initially voicing their concerns over the finances of the program, Kenney was cautiously optimistic they will be able to reach an agreement during their meeting on Tuesday.

From a federal government perspective, they would like to see a larger private sector investment in skills development, with training directly linked to jobs. However, the provinces are concerned that funding for the Canada Job Grant will provide them less federal financing than they currently receive through existing Labour Market Agreements.

"I think we're getting close to an agreement where we can do both of those things, where we can have something like the Job Grant but also retain some of the provincial programs that currently exist and achieve both of our objectives. So we're going to give it one more last try. If at the end of the day the provinces decide they don't want to participate in the Job Grant, no harm no foul. We are prepared to deliver something directly from the Government of Canada."

Kenney also clarified that small businesses would not have to contribute $5,000 to participate in the Canada Job Grant program, and that rather that total is a maximum contribution amount for medium and large businesses. For businesses with less than 50 employees, they would only require contribute up to just 20 per cent of the training.

"The idea is to prime the pump a bit. To get some of those small businesses who are not currently investing in skills development to do so by offsetting the majority of the costs. One of the reasons a lot of small businesses in an area like Southern Saskatchewan do not currently invest more in skills development is because they're concerned that if they do the trained people will be poached by the oil and gas industry, by bigger employers. So what we're trying to is to kind of offset a portion of the training costs so that there's a less risk for small and medium businesses to invest in training."

Cypress Hills Grasslands MP David Anderson said Saturday's day long visit was an important opportunity to showcase the Southwest.

"It's always a great thing when we can bring a Cabinet Minister into the riding. We're not exactly on the beaten path of most of their travels. It's been great that Minister Kenney's been willing to come in and spend the day in Swift Current."

Anderson said is was also key to raise the profile to the labour and employment challenges Saskatchewan is facing in the midst of a strong economy.

"When I've asked around the riding what the main issue, the main concern that people have, it consistently focusses on labour issues and the shortage of labour that we've got in this riding," Anderson said. "He's heard lots today about the shortage of labour in the area, the employment challenges that we have. I think he's also seen the strength of the economy. Everyone that we talked to said that their businesses are running well, they're strong. What's actually holding back a number of them is the fact that they can't get enough labour."

Because of Saskatchewan's strengths, Anderson said the province needs to meet different labour issues than other regions of Canada.

"There's actually some non-traditional needs as well. We look at agriculture, and the expansion of farms and ranches. And now farmers who used to be able to do most of the work themselves or with a part-time hired man, are now looking to employ two or three or four people, and so that's really changed the dynamics of agriculture, and I think it has to change the reaction of governments to request for agricultural help.

"Agriculture kind of falls in between that skilled and non-skilled category, and governments need to be able to react to that as well. We can easily bring in people with degrees and certain specific skills because we can identify them. But it's harder to identify someone who would be really good on a farm, and yet many of our farmers and ranchers need that."

Anderson commented that business, education and government need to have a critical discussion on job training.

"I think it's time that we actually had that. I've been on the Natural Resources Committee the last few years, and one of the things that we consistently identified is that there's going to be a real shortage of labour. And a lot of those projects are in rural areas and northern areas, where there's not actually a shortage of people, but there's a shortage of ability to fill the jobs.

"We need to find a way to put our young people, our schools, and businesses together in a way that we are training people to move into jobs that are actually there for them."

Anderson was also thrilled he could highlight the international flair of the region for Kenney, who had the distinction of being Canada’s longest-serving Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism after holding that portfolio from 2008 to 2013.

"That's what's really struck me in our discussions today is how much, even in the past 10 years, our communities have changed. And it's not just Swift Current, it's rural communities as well. I'm from Frontier and I think we just had another four Filipino families who are moving into Honey Bee Manufacturing there. We have a significant number of our school population now is Filipino. It is critical to the survival of some of the small towns that we're able to bring in people from outside, that we have some of these other businesses along side agriculture in order to support the local economy. So we've certainly have a changing face in Southwestern Saskatchewan. And I think that's exciting. I mean these folks have come in, they contribute so much to the community, and they're hard working, they're family-oriented, and we're lucky to have them here."

Organizations: Conservative Party of Canada, Federal Government

Geographic location: Swift Current, Western Canada, Saskatchewan Southern Saskatchewan

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