In face of labour shortage, Chamber promotes career education

Matt Gardner
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The Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce is shifting its focus to education with a range of initiatives targeted primarily at local youth.

Prince Albert Daily Herald

CEO Merle Lacert said the increased emphasis on youth learning arose from the need to confront the chronic labour shortage faced by communities across the province, including Prince Albert, over the last decade.

“One thing I think that’s emerged in the last decade has been that work with youth -- as far as career awareness, career education -- has in many cases started too late,” Lacert said.

He added, “Our primary goal … with the Chamber then, of course, is to support the development of youth, which basically goes into the development of tomorrow’s labour force.”

A recent example of the Chamber’s work in that area has been its ongoing support for the Paul Martin Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Program (AYEP). Created by former prime minister Paul Martin, the AYEP provides funds to help First Nations students learn to become entrepreneurs in their communities.

Both the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division and the Prince Albert Catholic School Division have now begun offering the AYEP for students at some schools -- a development Lacert noted would help offer more exposure to similar programs.

While the AYEP is meant to educate students on becoming business owners rather than employees, Lacert said it would still the same purpose in terms of addressing the area labour shortage.

“The critical purpose is to engage with the students and the kids and get them thinking about careers at a much earlier age so that whatever career they pursue, they’re doing so … more informed,” the Chamber CEO said.

“So if they choose to do an entrepreneurship route, again, I think then that they can create opportunities to make some very good contributions to the communities in which they serve.”

While the AYEP exemplifies the type of career education program it is hoping to promote, the Chamber is also developing plans for a permanent local agency to bring together business and industry with education.

Modeled after the Saskatoon Industry Education Council, a non-profit organization that has been in existence for 20 years, the Prince Albert Industry Education Council (PAIEC) would seek to opportunities for youth to develop and explore future careers.

“Some of the principles really are creating systems or programs that will offer students career exploration opportunities at a much earlier age -- maybe even beginning at Grade 5 compared to as they’re exiting school in Grade 11 or 12,” Lacert said.

Our primary goal … is to support the development of youth, which basically goes into the development of tomorrow’s labour force. Merle Lacert

“The goal ultimately is to give them a wealth of experiences, a wealth of information and supports that would support them as they grow through the years in their educational system and prepare them to make strong, well-informed decisions on what their career paths or future would be.”

At the moment, the PAIEC is only in the very early stages.

The Chamber is currently seeking to bring together members from industry to work with groups from the education sector.

“Industry can contribute either as being a mentor (or) they can contribute to completing presentations on various careers which give students a firsthand insight into what the job is like -- what maybe the requirements are from an educational perspective,” Lacert said.

Representatives from industry might also helps students through practicums or work experience by offering support for different programs or initiatives through the PAIEC or committee work of other Industry Education Councils.

Lacert pointed to the example of a new website, Sask. Careers -- created by the Saskatoon Industry Education Council -- that would serve as a “one-stop shop” for students by offering information on different careers and the educational requirements for each.

Looking further down the road, Lacert suggested that a future avenue for the PAIEC might be helping employers become more directly involved in workplace planning.

“If there was an employer that was short or dependent on a particular skilled trade -- whether it be an instrumentation tech or an engineer, any of those -- they can then contribute to kind of building those workers for their need,” he explained.

“What I mean by that is if they’ve committed to the committee, help to guide maybe the information for those particular careers or jobs, offered different presentations and just contribute to building future engineers, future steamfitters, they can then look to address some of their own future needs.”

Heading into fall, the Chamber will be looking to expand the PAIEC by incorporating more local industry representatives, who will likely help develop aspects of the committee such as composition, funding model and which education programs to prioritize for students.

Anyone interested in getting involved in the committee may contact Lacert at the Chamber of Commerce for more information.

Organizations: Prince Albert Industry Education Council, Prince Albert, First Nations Saskatoon Industry Education Council Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division Prince Albert Catholic School Division Chamber of Commerce

Geographic location: Sask.

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