While I was in Alberta Dave Reddekopp and Kristin Cummings took me to see a couple of the provinces Labour Market Information Centres. I was able to visit one in downtown Edmonton and another in Red Deer which is a rural centre about an hour and a half’s drive from Edmonton.
Alberta’s employment system has a single point of service for employment related matters. While you administer your benefits through Service Canada, you deal with job finding, learning information and careers advice through the Labour Market Information Centre (so no distinction between an employment service e.g. Jobcentre Plus and a careers service e.g. Next Step).
The Centre’s have a light and airy feel with a strong professional attitude in evidence. Clients have access to books, computers, the excellent products of ALIS phones and floor walking careers advisers. They also have the opportunity to book in for one-to-one career counselling and to connect to workshop programmes. The Centre’s also play a role in administrating access to training and development funds and it was clear from some of the staff that I talked to that this can be a challenging role as it requires you to strike the appropriate balance between policing the system, motivating people to move on and advocating for them to get the opportunities that they feel they need.
All in all it comes across as a pretty comprehensive service staffed by some really nice and helpful people. The staff talked about how the focus of the service was to help people into work and to move people off of dependence on the state as quickly as possible. They were optimistic about the possibility of finding people work, although clearly needed to recognise that each individual has different levels of barriers. This meant that sometimes there was a reported tension between the individuals desire for funded training and the service’s desire to move them back into the labour market as rapidly as possible. This was presented in terms of being compromised, but rather as a necessary part of the process of career building that the service is helping individuals with. In other words learning that you can’t always get what you want, but that you might just get what you need is part of life and career.
Staff talked about the context of employment in Alberta as being a fairly dynamic one. Some mentioned that the environment has changed and it has become apparent that there might not be work for some heavily barriered individuals. However, they are still operating in a fairly buoyant economy with an expanding labour market. One member of staff talked about how during the height of the boom employers had been coming to them and complaining that economic expansion was being held back by both skills and labour shortages. That kind of environment is clearly a very satisfying one in which to run an employment service.
Overall I was impressed by the way in which the Centre’s created an environment in which clients could seriously pursue their job seeking and career building in a supported way. They seemed to have got a nice balance between self-directed and supported career exploration and to have successfully created a culture within which client could optimistically pursue their careers.