Working from home is the new reality we are facing as we manoeuver through life with COVID-19. Kootenay Employment Services (KES) delivers employment related programs in Fernie, Cranbrook, Invermere and Creston and is considered an essential service. When the country shut down in mid-March, the management team had hours to make it possible for 46 employees in four separate offices to work remotely, this included developing a virtual services delivery plan that follows contract policies and accommodates a wide range of clientele.
“We already had the capacity to deliver services virtually, and COVID forced us to expedite the steps needed to move completely virtual,” said Londa Morris, regional employment programs manager at KES in Creston. “For many of us it has been challenging to be so isolated and feel such uncertainty and we know that these are the same feelings our clients are experiencing. In some ways the switch to virtual services has brought our four regional offices closer together with all of us Zooming into meetings we are getting to know staff from other offices much better. Having said that, I think many of our staff, myself included, are experiencing a loss of that in-person connection with our teammates and clients. We are trying our best to come up with creative ways to connect virtually to remedy that.”
Employment resource advisor Sarah is the first connection people have when they walk-in or call the KES office in Invermere. She has found ways to adapt her usual duties to accommodate working from home and overcome new challenges. “The phones are busier as there has been an increase in people reaching out with questions and for help,” she said. “Some calls are about our services and some are not. Overall people are thankful that we are available whether it is something we can assist them with or not. From a technical standpoint, helping people complete and submit applications for jobs and programs has been tough but we get through it.”
Sage is an employment counsellor at the KES office in Fernie. Her day-to-day routine involves meeting with clients which she now does from home.
“The switch to Zoom has been challenging in some ways because many clients, as well as myself, rather enjoy the personal and social interaction that is involved with meeting face-to-face,” she said. “However, it has also given us the ability to explore the positives that are involved with meeting from a distance and to indulge in the technological forward world that we are in. From personal experience, having friends and family that are close to my heart that live all over the country has given me the opportunity to adjust to virtual means in order to continue to have these great relationships in my life.”
KES has been delivering employment services in the Creston Valley since 1990 and recently expanded with three new offices in the East Kootenay. KES also delivers several community and economic initiatives as well as operating a small daycare.
KES’ regional employer and community liaison for the East, Kris splits her time between Invermere, Cranbrook and Fernie. She said COVID has presented many challenges.
“This is a new position I started right around the time we closed our offices. My plan was to regularly travel to each community to meet with employers and community groups, but it is now mostly being done via phone, email and Zoom, and our discussions are much different than I had anticipated. Employers talk to me about similar struggles in connecting with clients and customers and how much more personable this process has become. It is the opposite of what I had expected a move to non face-to-face service would look like. We are in fact putting more into connecting with people to compensate for safety and distancing and it’s bringing people closer together.”
As restrictions begin to ease, KES is expecting many existing and new clients will be needing services to find employment in this new labour market. For many, this might mean a change of career path while others will be recalled to their previous industry and may just need a short course or clothing or transportation supports.
“At this time, we feel the deep impact of how COVID has touched the lives of our community members and local employers,” Morris said. “This is a hard time for those who are unemployed, and it has been very powerful for our staff to support clients through this time. It has also been difficult to see the impact on businesses who face shutdowns and layoffs. Moving forward, we are touched to play such a pivotal role in supporting our communities through this crisis as we begin to rebuild.”
For more information contact Kootenay Employment Services in Fernie at 250-423-4204 or visit Kes.bc.ca.