When the Sarnia Lambton Workforce Development Board was first created, it was firmly focused on training, says Shauna Carr, now its executive director.
“It was even in our name,” says Carr, who runs the small office (there are just two full-time and one part-time staff) that is celebrating 20 years of service. “Some people still refer to us as the Training Board.”
It was those two decades ago that the organization was put in place as part of a joint initiative by the provincial and federal governments, originally to look what training would be required.
“It was an initiative that would bring a local perspective,” says Carr. “The idea being that the local community knew better what was going to be required.”
A decade ago, the current name was adopted and today the SLWDB is funded solely by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.
“We haven’t had federal funding for several years,” notes Carr, who also serves as co-chair of Workforce Planning West, comprising the nine boards in the western region as part of Workforce Planning Ontario.
Under the current umbrella of services, the SLWDB has doubled down on its goal of better understanding what the local labour market plan for the Sarnia Lambton community should be, basing those projections on a combination of census data an “employer one” survey that is done every January.
“We help employers look to the future and encourage them to look at issues that are going to impact their business,” says Carr.
One of those is the reality that more people are retiring but most companies, the vast majority being small businesses, aren’t necessarily planning for how they will adapt.
“The extremely forward-thinking businesses have been doing that,” says Carr. “But smaller firms don’t necessarily have those resources to do the planning that is necessary.”
Carr is doing what she can to fill the gap, working with a volunteer board of directors made up of representatives of business, labour, education and the community.
“We’re basically a research agency that helps inform what the supply and demand is from a workforce standpoint,” she notes.
Making connections between job seekers and employers is part of that task.
“A lot of it is related to the skills gap,” says Carr. “And what skills are needed in big cities like Toronto aren’t necessarily the same as in Sarnia-Lambton.”
One possible surprise to some may be that there is a shortage of engineers in our area.
“I would never have thought that,” says Carr. “But it’s talking to local employers that revealed that key insight.”
Other realities like the need to bring on more apprentices to keep renewing a skilled workforce are also part of what the SLWDB sees on its radar.
“The key thing is that we’re always available to present what we’ve learned about the local labour market,” says Carr, who points to the organization as being a source of information on grants being sought. “If we have it, we’ll provide it, but if we don’t we’ll get you to that person or explain why the data isn’t collected. That’s why we’re here.”
Shauna Carr can be reached by email. Her phone number is (519) 332-0000.