The best social program is a good job.
So says Hugh Grant, executive director of Kootenay Employment Services (KES), which helps find employment for people throughout the Kootenay Rockies region.
On Monday, KES received more than $500,000 in federal funding to help people with disabilities in the region find gainful work, through KES’s Working Solutions program.
The funding was announced by Candice Bergen, Minister of State for Social Development, at the Service Canada offices in downtown Cranbrook.
“Our government believes that everybody who wants to work should have the opportunity to work,” said Bergen, who is the MP for Portage-Lisgar in Manitoba. “So when it comes to the overall strategy of skills and job training and linking people with jobs that are available, certainly there are people with disabilities who have many abilities who have been left out.”
The funding, to the tune of $509,000, comes from the federal government’s Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities, to help those with varying abilities get jobs.
The project will help 44 people in the Kootenay Rockies region overcome barriers to employment through either skills training of job placement.
“There are fantastic programs across the country, one right here in the Kootenay region — Kootenay Employment Services — which helps people with a variety of barriers get to work,” Bergen said. “They’re going to help 44 people in the region with either training to get to work — resume writing, how to decide what kind of work you’re looking for, interview skills. Or the other part is helping employers with their wages. Employers say, ‘I’d like to hire this person, I could use a little help paying them until I get everything worked out.’ That’s what these funds will go towards.”
The Working Solutions program is delivered throughout the Kootenay Rockies region. It is part of the Opportunities Fund, and puts individuals into skill training programs, each one customized for the individual. It also helps with wage subsidies, to encourage employers to hire those individuals to give them the actual on-the-ground work experience.
Bergen said the results have been outstanding.
“A huge percentage of people have found jobs and are in long-term employment, and are able to do all the things we enjoy doing — earning a living, supporting our families, supporting ourselves, contributing to our community,” she said. “And it isn’t about being socially responsible; this is about economic benefit for all of us. It’s tax dollars being wisely invested.”
Grant said the funding is going to be put to work by helping individuals “who have either never been in the workforce because of disabilities holding them back, or individuals that have been in the workforce but have been injured or one way or another disabled and are trying to return to the workforce.
“(Working Solutions) is a wonderful program that gives those individuals that opportunity. I’ve often told folks that the best social program is a good job. And that’s what comes through this funding. We match people with jobs and get them back into the workforce so that they are contributing members to social programs rather than having to depend on them.
“There’s real cost savings for the government of Canada through this program.”
Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks said, “Certainly in this area, we all see those people who want to work, who want to find an avenue to get into work, and this is a great opportunity for that.”
Bergen, who was elected in 2008, actually lived in Cranbrook for a number of years.
“Someone from my family has always lived in Cranbrook,” she said. “I could probably drive to Cranbrook from Morden, Man., with my eyes closed in about 17 hours.”
—BY BARRY COULTER, Cranbrook Daily Townsman