Em­ploy­ment Ser­vices pro­ject­ing fewer On­tario Works cases

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - LOUIS PIN @STTJ_Pin lpin@post­media.com

So far there have been fewer On­tario Works cases to process at St. Thomas-El­gin So­cial Ser­vices this year, down from 1,591 in 2016 to 1,557 pro­jected cases in 2017.

It’s an en­cour­ag­ing sign for the de­part­ment but nowhere near the vol­ume they’d pre­fer. Caseloads hov­ered around 800 to 900 an­nu­ally be­fore the re­ces­sion, but spiked im­me­di­ately af­ter, even­tu­ally peak­ing at 1,703 in­di­vid­ual cases in 2014. Since then num­bers have dipped, if slightly. STESS re­mains op­ti­mistic. “Over 2016 the caseload num­bers are start­ing to show a grad­ual de­crease,” said El­iz­a­beth Sebestyen, act­ing di­rec­tor with STESS. “We think that’s be­cause the lo­cal econ­omy is stronger, the unem­ploy­ment rates are lower.”

Unem­ploy­ment rates provincewide are at a low in 2017, nearly a decade af­ter the last re­ces­sion. Since then most in­dus­tries have re­bounded but oth­ers, in­clud­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing, have not come back as quickly.

For a re­gion his­tor­i­cally reliant on man­u­fac­tur­ing like St. Thomas-El­gin that presents a prob­lem, one re­flected in worse em­ploy­ment rates among spe­cific de­mo­graph­ics.

“We find that the skills gap is still a prob­lem,” Sebestyen said. “There’s a mis­match be­tween the client skills that we have and some of the job de­mands out there but we’re work­ing with var­i­ous providers in the area … to try to tai­lor the train­ing that our clients need to be able to ac­cess the jobs that are avail­able.”

Those providers in­clude Fan­shawe Col­lege and the em­ploy­ment ser­vices of­fices, places specif­i­cally in touch with younger peo­ple in St. Thomas-El­gin. Men be­tween 25 and 35 in the re­gion are still find­ing them­selves em­ployed less fre­quently than the pro­vin­cial av­er­age, a trou­bling trend for the re­gion.

The hope is to lever­age nearby schools and ser­vices to con­nect that young de­mo­graphic to job needs in the re­gion.

“There are jobs out there,” Sebestyen said. “We just don’t have jobs [to match] peo­ple’s skills.”

Many of those jobs are in skilled trades. In a re­port filed with El­gin County coun­cil Sept. 12 Sebestyen re­ferred to a re­port of the high­est in-de­mand jobs in the re­gion.

Agri­cul­ture, farm work, con­struc­tion, site su­per­vi­sors, and driv­ers were all at the top.

“Ideally we would have no one on as­sis­tance,” Sebestyen said. “Ev­ery­one would have a job and would be self-suf­fi­cient but … fac­to­ries have closed, a lot of fac­to­ries have closed. The work­force is chang­ing. The needs are dif­fer­ent, and peo­ple need to ad­just.”

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