Two consultants are developing a Houston strategy to address the labour market challenges.
Still in the formative stages, the Labour Market Strategy (LMS) has one guiding question: How can one close the gap between the labour force needed in Houston and the region, and the labour force that currently exists?
Consultants Andrea Newell and Pat Hufnagel-Smith were hired in March for the LMS project, and presented the draft to council last week Tuesday.
The strategy was based on research done by the consultants, including information from the Regional District Skills Gap Analysis, the Houston Community Profile and the Northwest Workforce Table.
More notably, it also included interviews with the major employers in Houston as well as local service providers like Work BC and NWCC.
After research, the LMS consultants met with nine key stakeholders for a LMS session, where they presented their research and let stakeholders decide on the priorities.
Newell said the local employers confirmed that a gap does exist between the labour force that exists now and what they want to hire.
“It wasn’t just trades, it was also managers and anything that required higher post secondary education, like social work,” Newell said.
Some principles guiding the LMS development included (1) building on things already happening, (2) using ideas with measurable outcomes and returns for investment and (3) finding regional opportunities to address local concerns, which increases leverage to get funding.
Five strategic priorities were chosen.
The first priority was to continue to support the transition of workers impacted by the closure of Houston Forest Products.
Newell said they found indicators that the community may need more transition activities after the workers severance and Employment Insurance benefits run out, and after the ripple effects of the closure become evident.
The Labour Market Strategy suggests the District use the Houston Health Committee to monitor the need for a future job fair or other support.
That would be done by talking to service providers about the needs they are seeing.
Another job fair is not planned but may come in the future if the need arises, said Pat Hufnagel-Smith.
WORK WHERE YOU LIVE
The second priority was to promote a “work where you live” value.
Employers are having a hard time attracting skill sets that aren’t readily available in this area, and with much of the skilled workforce retiring, it might be tough to find managers and supervisors, Newell said.
The LMS suggests that the District develop training for employers to get tools to attract, recruit and retain workers.
Some of those tools would be promoting the lifestyle, community amenities and affordable housing, and recruiting spouses.
Newell said one local employer was able to attract workers, but found it hard to attract spouses.
It would help if there was facilitation to connect a new family to the community, like someone to welcome them and shows them what’s available for recreation and work in Houston, Newell said.
The economic health of Houston depends on the growth and prosperity of existing business, and on people being able to fill the needs of the workforce.
For a more resilient economy and workforce, Newell said businesses need to know how to diversify and workers need to know about how their skills transfer between sectors of business (between logging, mining, construction, etc.).
The LMS suggests that the District help people understand investment and economic development planned for this region, encourage self-employment, and focus training on in-demand occupations.
Newell said Houston stakeholders really wanted to have a reverse trade fair here, where smaller contractors and companies promote what they have to offer to bigger companies such as LNG or mines.
Newell says income assistance numbers are showing that many local youth are not effectively transitioning from high school and college into the workforce.
This priority was really important to Houston stakeholders, Newell said.
The LMS suggests that the school, college and industry develop a formal relationship to offer programs to help youth transition into the workforce more effectively.
Newell says the ACT-IT millwright program is a great example, partnering School District 54, NWCC and Monster, which also uniquely includes adults in the training.
“That’s really good work… but it’s not formalized,” she said, adding that there are models of formal partnerships like Northern Opportunities and Coastal Pathways.
Houston stakeholders “really liked this idea,” Newell said.
Hufnagel-Smith said it’s exciting that School District 54 sees the shop as a real opportunity to expand their training, and ACE-IT programs are a great way to solve class-size problems.
Having a formal relationship between SD54, NWCC and industry would keep programs sustainable to consistently run.
Promoting programs is important as well, because there have been times when information about programs being offered didn’t reach parents, Newell said.
Social media strategies would be important because that’s what students are absorbing, she added.
Finally, they suggested adding more real life information and job search skills into their existing career programs.
There are residents in Houston with barriers keeping them from the workforce, including lack of high school, literacy issues, no drivers licence or reliable transportation, lack of childcare or health issues.
To address this, LMS suggested the District work with the Houston Health Committee to find ways to address barriers.
The strategy suggests more opportunities for people to improve literacy, computer literacy, and get their Dogwood diplomas.
A “Introduction for Women in Trades” program was suggested, as well as more funding to help youth with multiple barriers get their dogwood and transition into the workforce.
Newell said they discussed support for the Youth Empowerment Program (YEP), which was very successful and helped eight students graduate last year.
Their funding was cut off and they have a temporary solution to continue until December, Newell said.
The LMS consultants are working on the final draft of the Houston Labour Market Strategy to be done by the end of September.
Mayor Bill Holmberg said he likes the direction of the LMS, and the wide spectrum it covers.
“I think you pretty much nailed it,” he said, adding that his biggest concern is funding to move the priorities forward.
Councillor Michalle Jolly said a lot of the priorities are already moving forward with the work of the pillars.
Newell agreed, adding that a lot can happen at the local level.
She said formalizing the relationship between the schools and industry would be an easier one to move forward, as there are existing models to use to leverage funding.