That’s the theme behind a unique provincial program aimed at bringing Ontarians with criminal records and those on social assistance into the labour force.
Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton made the announcement in Dresden Friday, pledging an additional $160 million to help 100,000 people access training for a plethora of jobs – including skilled trades – that are currently going unfilled in Ontario.
McNaughton said the program – the first of its kind in Canada – will help address a historic labour shortage while providing opportunity for people who have been unable to enter the job market.
The minister said the critical shortage requires a new approach to bring “all hands-on deck,” noting that for too long, too many people “have been forgotten and treated as second class citizens.”
McNaughton said the province is “leaving no stone unturned to ensure we give anyone who wants a job and a paycheque they can be proud of, a shot at the Ontario dream. Whether you’ve been on social assistance for 10 months or 10 years, we’ll help you.”
There are currently 800,000 people in Ontario who rely on social assistance, including hundreds of thousands of people whose criminal records hold them back from obtaining a good job.
McNaughton said the number includes a majority of citizens who are “willing, able and eager to work,” noting the segment includes people “who made a mistake in the past.” But even though they never reoffend, almost half remain on social assistance – even 15 years after the incident occurred and the person has paid their debt to society.
Flanked by Depencier Builders employees currently at work on the DeMall Group subdivision, McNaughton announced the new round of funding that brings Ontario’s total investment in the Skills Development Fund Training Stream to more than $860 million.
McNaughton said the program will be delivered through public/private partnerships, citing Chatham-Kent’s Vision Us initiative as a success story from the last round of Ontario’s Skill Development Fund. A $465,000 investment is now preparing 24 local youth to work in the construction industry.
Participants in the free SkillsShift program that started in July receive a six-week course that includes training in construction basics, blueprint reading, scissor lift certification, financial literacy, soft skills, mentorship and $1,125 for equipment and transportation. Participants also benefit from a two-week paid job placement with a local employer.
McNaughton said he will be asking the business community to get on board with the program and give people a chance, noting money is available for clients of all ages for training people in health care, auto-manufacturing, information technology, hospitality as well as the skilled trades.
“If we don’t solve this problem, nobody wins,” McNaughton told the gathering. “Those struggling to find meaningful work will watch life pass them by and resort to crime, drugs and other behaviours that tear families and communities apart.
“These are people who made a mistake in the past who want to put in an honest shift,” he added.
Roughly 300,000 jobs in the province are going unfilled each day, McNaughton said, adding the worker shortage threatens the economy, as well as Ontario’s ambitious infrastructure goals that include building 1.5 million homes by 2031.
Funding applications are now being accepted until Nov. 17. Eligible organizations include employers, employment service and training providers, labour unions, community, business and industry organizations, including hospitals, Indigenous band office and training services, and other service system providers
The first three funding rounds have supported close to 600 projects in the province.