By Stephen Petrick
Haliburton County council hopes a new SIRCH-led transportation program will help get people to the employment training they need and eventually address a skilled labour shortage that’s hampering the economy and local employers.
Councillors recently gave a hearty endorsement and financial backing to a new pilot program being led by the well-known social organization, whose long title is Supportive Initiative for Residents in the County of Haliburton.
SIRCH recently leased an eight-person van and hired a driver. The driver can now pick up people, who are enrolled in SIRCH employment training programs, but don’t have their own means of transportation, and get them to their training.
SIRCH, based at 49 Maple Ave. in Haliburton, runs programs for local residents who are preparing to enter the workforce, including the Cook It Up program and Ready for Retail.
The hope is that now more people in remote, rural areas, areas will have access to training for the fields of hospitality, retail and carpentry and, eventually, access to employment.
“We often hear that businesses struggle to find good employees,” said county chief administrative officer Mike Rutter, while promoting the program to councillors at their April 13 virtual meeting. The program, he said, “connects a lot of dots.”
Rutter was speaking, following a deputation by Janine Mitchell, the manager of Human Services for the City of Kawartha Lakes, which is also a partner in the project.
Councillors eventually supported the recommendation to fund $20,000 towards the pilot project
Council had already put aside $200,000 over the past four years for a transportation program; it was just waiting for the right model to come along.
Rutter said, when he heard about the program from Mitchell it was quite timely because, under provincial funding formulas, municipalities are given incentives for creating transportation programs. By supporting the program, Haliburton County may be eligible to receive more gas tax funding by 2023.
Because of this, no councillor showed any objection and the vote passed unanimously.
“For $20,000, it’s a pretty cheap ticket for us to get our toe in the water,” said Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin.
A report to council indicated how the program will work.
“The driver is available to pick up in the morning and drop [participants] off at the end of the training day. This service will extend through the two to 16 week training programs as well as for the first three months of placement or employment, following training, a period that is crucial to successful long-tern employment.
“There is no fee while individuals are attending training. In addition to simply providing a way to get to training or work, the driver will assist individuals to find longer term solutions to transportation. That might be locating someone to share a ride, helping the trainee get a licence, or helping them find an affordable way to get their car or truck on the road.”
SIRCH has also projected several outcomes of the pilot project. The organization believes the program will provide training and employment to 20 people who would not receive it otherwise.
It also believes that anywhere from six to 15 Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program recipients per week will benefit from transportation to meetings and appointments to assist with stability supports.
The report to council also noted that, if successful, the pilot program could be expanded to serve other service areas such as the Youth Hub and organizations that support mental health.