By Dan Rankin
At the Joint Economic Development Committee industry breakfast back in September, local employers and council members heard how the County was working with Partners in Employment to bring Perth County businesses to job fairs across the province in cities such as Peterborough and Toronto. Those communities have high unemployment, they heard, and local businesses having trouble filling job openings could gain access to a wide field of workers, many of them new Canadians anxious to get out of the cities where they had been since landing in Canada.
Perth County Economic Development Coordinator Kristin Sainsbury told the Perth South Economic Development Committee this week that the first few of those “reverse job fairs” have begun taking place – the only thing missing has been local businesses.
The County has recently attended job fairs in London, Brantford and several in Toronto, Sainsbury said. “We have met to talk about the outcomes of that and, unfortunately, it hasn’t been as good as we had anticipated,” she said. “The biggest thing I found was, despite numerous emails out to people, we had a low uptake by employers willing to commit one day to go out and do on-site interviews with people.”
Several businesses from Stratford, St. Marys and the County did attend the fairs, she said, “but some of the ones we hear screaming the loudest, we’d say, ‘Are you willing to go? It’s a day. There’s no cost to you,’ and they weren’t. For whatever reason they didn’t take it up.”
Several businesses even chose to “drop out at the last minute,” she said. “An employment centre has gone to the effort of getting space, promoting an event, bringing people in, and then three of the companies that are supposed to come decide the day before not to show up? It doesn’t look very good.”
In other instances, when local companies attending the job fairs made offers to potential employees, the would-be employees “decided no,” Sainsbury said. “Although they went through the process with the companies and job offers were made, there is a barrier to having them relocate,” she said, noting the cost of moving a family for a job paying a comparable wage could be preventing workers from making the leap.
“We thought for sure these reverse job fairs were going to have a much better outcome than they did,” she said. “At this point that’s not going to be ended.”
They still plan on attending one or two more upcoming fairs in Ottawa and Peterborough, as well as hosting several “virtual job fairs” in the New Year.
Sainsbury also touched on work that is being done to attract young people in the area to the manufacturing industry. “A lot of youths look right away to service jobs – restaurants and retail,” she said. “There’s a bad rep for manufacturing – they often site safety problems as a concern.”
To reverse this, groups of youths through Partners in Employment and Conestoga College will soon be taking a pilot test tour of Cooper Standard in Stratford. “Cooper Standard is going to take them into their plant and do a tour to show them what modern manufacturing is all about, and try to put some of those concerns at bay,” she said. “We’re going to be doing a followup survey with the people that participate to find out if it changed their perspective on manufacturing. We’ll also be looking to have a conversation with the school boards. How do we help dispel some of the myths around some of these traditional industries?”