Sioux Lookout adjusting to changing employment market
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
“In the last 18 months or so, we’ve definitely seen a trend here at Sioux-Hudson Employment Services, where it has definitely become an employee’s market. There are far more jobs than there are people to fill the positions,” stated Sioux-Hudson Employment Services program manager Roxanne Hammond.
As of April 19, Sioux-Hudson Employment Services had more than 140 jobs on its job board. Those vacancies span entry level positions to accredited professional positions.
Hammond said the organization regularly advertises more than 100 jobs available in the community, but she said something has changed within the last 18 months.
“If I am to be really honest about what we see as being the biggest challenges to recruiting and retaining staff members, because I think there are two different pieces to the pie here, one is being able to recruit people who want to come work for you, and the second is to retain them over the long term. I think our biggest issue that we see is our increased cost of living here in Sioux Lookout. Things like housing are particularly expensive. Our food costs, our gas costs, our child care costs, are overwhelmingly expensive. When you can find it, the cost is extraordinary,” Hammond said.
She continued, “We see a lot of people struggling with social issues. To be able to stay in the workforce, whether that is things like homelessness, or periodic episodes of homelessness, we also see things like mental health and addictions issues, and we see at the entry level, wages not being able to keep up with the actual costs of living. Even at the professional level, we often see dual income families that have one entire income going toward the cost of child care alone. These are some of the challenges that we’re facing.”
She remarked, “It has definitely escalated in the last 18 months into very much a crisis situation.”
Balancing a higher cost of living in a community where a lot of smaller businesses in town aren’t able to pay higher wages is proving tricky, Hammond said.
“I think people are really reaching their breaking point, saying I just can’t make ends meet.”
However, she added, “I don’t want to present it as all being bad news because on the flip side of this is that Sioux Lookout is the land of opportunity. If you are an individual who is looking for work, across almost any sector, you will likely find it here in Sioux Lookout. You will find employers who are willing to go the extra mile to accommodate you because when they do find a strong employee who is going to stick with them for the long term, they’re willing to invest in that employee.”
Hammond further shared, “Our community is very friendly to new graduates. Our community is very friendly to newcomers to the job market and we see them getting opportunities that they might not otherwise get in other communities where the workplace may be far more competitive.”
In fact, Hammond said Sioux-Hudson Employment Services has partnered with Confederation College to inform new grads from the region of the opportunities in Sioux Lookout.
Hammond said Sioux-Hudson Employment Services has a lot of programs that can assist both prospective employees and employers.
“We’re a full suite services provider with Employment Ontario.
What that means is that we provide professional employment counselling services, and that includes things like resume writing, cover letter writing, interview skills, job search assistance, making direct connections with employers and mangers, so if you come in we can tell you, this is who you want to speak to. We can sometimes make that call on your behalf. All of our employment counsellors are certified life skills facilitators.”
She explained that counselors can assist job seekers with budgeting, living on a fixed income, accessing and referrals to local service providers that can assist with access to housing, and accessing mental health and addictions services.
“We also have wage subsidy programs here. We have an amazing group of employers in our community that continuously and endlessly partner with us in our wage subsidy programs. If someone is facing a barrier to employment, we can offset some of the cost of accommodating that employee with a wage subsidy,” she said.
Hammond said she feels the Municipality of Sioux Lookout is moving in the right direction to address these challenges.
“I see our municipality making our community’s reputation on the larger scale stronger. I see us making great strides in that and promoting some of the positives that living in Sioux Lookout, and in this environment, brings. We don’t have traffic jams on the way to work. Everyone knows each other. Very few people feel that they have to lock their doors. We have a really great sense of community and we have a lot of community development projects happening every year… I think we are becoming more competitive.”
She continued, “I think in the coming years it will be integral for us as a community to continue to grow and develop.”
Hammond is pleased that a housing summit will be hosted in June by the Municipality of Sioux Lookout.
One of the services in town currently experiencing a staffing shortage is the municipal day care programs.
Kelly Negus, daycare manager, shared, “The day care centres are currently short staffed, but the main impacts have been on our after school programs for PD days and March break. We have not been able to secure staff to operate these programs when staff would be required for a full day. Being short staffed has not affected the operations of our full day toddler and preschool programs and ministry ratios are adhered to at all times.”
The day care centres are currently looking to fill two six-hour positions. They currently have no casual staff to call in.
At a community engagement session in February at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC), long-term care beds were discussed.
Municipal councillor Joyce Timpson commented at the time, “This issue with the personal support workers… that’s a real scary thing for me.”
Timpson said she was informed by a senior staff member at the hospital, just the day before the meeting, that if Sioux Lookout were awarded the additional long-term care beds it has asked for, the hospital could not staff them.
“They’re so highly regulated now and you can’t get people to go off to college to be a PSW,” Timpson said.
Samantha Brooks, SLMHC director of patient care services (acute) / chief nursing officer, stated, “We currently do not have a shortage of PSWs within the town of Sioux Lookout.”
When asked if SLHMC was to open additional long-term care beds in the near future, could the health centre expect to have difficulty hiring and retaining long-term care staff such as PSWs? Brooks replied, “We do anticipate that there may be difficulty in hiring the necessary number of PSWs.”
She added, “There is no immediate shortage, but we are included in discussions with the LHIN (Local Health Integration Network) and community partners to see what opportunities exist for training, recruitment, and retention of PSWs in Northwestern Ontario.”
Sioux Lookout is hoping to expand its number of long-term care beds from 20 to 96.
People can access Sioux-Hudson Employment Services at their office at 54 Front Street on the second floor of the Centennial Centre. They are open Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or call toll free at 866-307-4751.
Job seekers and employers can access services online at www.siouxlookoutjobs.com. They are also on Facebook.