Unemployed Houston residents will soon visit a single office for all employment services.
More than 400 B.C. organizations currently hold annual government contracts to run ten different employment programs ranging from job training to social assistance.
Starting in April, those same contracts will go to 47 organizations working in 73 catchment areas. Each will offer all ten programs in a single office.
Critics like Vancouver-Hastings NDP MLA Shane Simpson have said that centralization will save the B.C. government money at the cost of quality care.
But at West Coast Group, the company awarded a contract for employment services in the Bulkley Valley, executive director Sally Dick said the move will provide clients with more convenient and consistent programs.
“Clients will have only one door to go through, so they’ll be able to access all the services they need without being shuffled from pillar to post,” said Dick.
With so many small agencies offering different programs, she said it has been too easy for people to get lost in the shuffle.
In Houston, Dick said WCG will lease space in the Nadina Community Futures building. Advisors from the larger Smithers office will travel to Houston as needed, she said, likely two days a week. Self-serve options, like a job board and computers for job searches, will available Monday to Friday.
West Coast Group was purchased in 2007 by Province Service Corporation, a publicly-traded company based in Tuscon, Arizona.
According to the PSC website, the American company was created “in response to the increasing governmental initiatives to privatize human services.”
Dick said PSC has no policy role with the West Coast Group, and no personal data or financial information ever crosses the border.
Houston employment services are currently offered by Community Futures Nadina, a non-profit group that is partly funded through the federal Western Economic Diversification program.
Community Futures decided not to renew their bid on the contracts because they were too large, said manager Jerry Botti.
“It is going to be a big change for us,” Botti said. “We’ve been delivering those services for 19 years.”
“The upside of that is that our other services—our community economic development and our loan services—will become a little higher profile.”
Asked if he is concerned about the switch from a non-profit to a private company, Botti said that after talking with WCG he is optimistic that clients will see programs of the same quality.
Whoever offers the programs, Botti said the key is what kind of funding the province and federal governments are willing to contribute.
Before the BC Liberal government changed the contacts under former Premier Gordon Campbell, for example, Botti said it was easier for unemployed people with multiple barriers to get basic training in English, math and life skills.
“Those are the kinds of things that have nothing to do with who is offering the contract,” he said. “That’s the government’s choice.”