The WorkBC Aspire Program is helping young people find and keep employment in the East Kootenay. Photo submitted

Kootenay Employment Services gives hope to young people

The Kootenay Employment Services 9KES) Aspire Program, headquartered in Cranbrook, is celebrating helping young people enter the workplace. The Aspire Program “equips young adults with the skills, knowledge, networks and on-the-job experience they need to move into meaningful, good-paying employment.”

The program serves the East Kootenay Regional District with training locations in Fernie, Invermere, Cranbrook, and Kimberley.

Gregg Berg, LEAD Program Coordinator with KES in Cranbrook said the program, which is continuous, has been a success over the summer and fall.

“The program started in May and we had a couple intakes, one in July and one in September,” he said. “That’s throughout the East Kootenays. We’ve had almost 50 people go through the program. They all attended four weeks of workshops. We work with them to find work afterwards, and so the first group has had a pretty good success rate. Out of 14, we have had 11 people get work or education and continue that for 12 weeks.”

Berg said that program is for unemployed youth aged 18 to 24, who might be struggling with finding or retaining employment.

“The ones that come through our door are varied,” he said. “Some with no work experience and others with some work experience. Generally they need assistance connecting with employers. Sometimes that can mean just being able to communicate their skills. Other times they are not sure what type of work they are interested in.”

Berg said the young people in the program often need time and guidance in terms of exploring their options.

“One of the workshops is getting them some work experience,” he explained. “In Cranbrook we had the whole group volunteer at the Salvation Army for a day, and show up on time, and work as a team, and communicate and problem solve.”

Another component of the program is bringing in a number of employers in each community who are able to educate the participants as far as what they want in an employee, said Berg.

“We want to connect these people to employers, so there is not a wall between them,” he explained. “You’re actually a solution to their [employers] problem. They want to find somebody who has the skills, so we’ve had really good support with our employers.”

Berg said that quite a few employers have hired from the Aspire Program, and in turn allowed program leaders to access worksites to coach participants.

“We also talk about a training plan,” he said. “Our program acts as an in between.”

A wage subsidy assists employers with hiring young people said Berg.

“The program can pay a portion of the wages,” he said. “The reason for that is to offset some of the costs of training a new employee. Depending on the job offer, and needs of the individual, we can offer some money to compensate for training.”

Berg said that most of the employers are small businesses who appreciate the help.

“When we go to the larger employers like grocery chains, they already have a good training program in place,” he explained. “And again we had good response.”

According to Berg, there is actually a labour shortage in some parts of the East Kootenay.

“So the employers have been really receptive considering some employees have less work experience,” he said. “That’s what’s really cool about some of these younger workers because they are open to that.”

Berg said the Aspire Program will possibly continue for a total of two years as determined by a contract with the Province of B.C.

“They choose the locations,” he said. “So it’s not all across B.C. Generally they are looking at rural areas where the youth unemployment rate is often double of more.”

For more information about the Aspire Program in the Fernie, please contact (250) 423-4204.

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