Envision North to close its doors

The local Envision North practice firm will close its doors at the end of next month after the federal government pulled its funding for the program.
“The Human Resources and Skills Development Canada decided that they would no longer fund us,” said Cathy Emes, operations manager for Envision North.
“They felt there was no longer a need in the community.”
Administrators were notified of the decision in early March—before the contract ended on March 31.
Instead of being told their funding would be renewed for another year, “we were given a three-month extension to wrap up,” noted Anne Renaud, president of the Fort Frances campus of Confederation College.
The college is the sponsoring agency for the program.
Envision North was launched here on April 15, 2002. During the three years it was in operation, about 95 people went through the program—with 83 percent having gained and retained employment.
“We’re very proud of that success rate,” Emes said.
“It’s a huge success rate for people who may otherwise not have gained employment,” agreed Renaud.
A practice firm is a virtual business simulation where participants gain hands-on work experience similar to an internship. It makes business transactions with about 4,000 other practice firms around the world.
“We did business with firms in South America and Europe as well as the U.S. and Canada,” noted Emes, which gave participants valuable international experience.
Because most practice firms in Canada are located in Quebec, local participants also had the opportunity to do business in French.
Envision North was a fully operating practice firm, with shipping/receiving, purchasing, sales, marketing, accounting, reception, human resources, and IT departments.
“We sold everything from a Beanie Baby to an ATV,” Emes said.
Practice firms share catalogues of goods they have for sale, then order products from each other.
No money actually changes hands, and no goods are shipped, but participants go through the various stages of marketing, selling, and shipping goods, including all the necessary paperwork.
“It was as close a simulation to a real business as we could possibly make it,” Emes said.
The goods in the catalogue came from local businesses which sponsored the program.
“We had some terrific sponsors in the Rainy River District,” Emes remarked. “We sold product that really spoke about Northwestern Ontario.”
Some of the local sponsors included Betty’s, Northwoods Gallery and Gifts, Rainy Lake Sport and Tackle, Rainy Lake Boatworks, and Tompkins Hardware.
While participants spent a good deal of time working in the practice firm, they also spent 20 percent developing job-searching skills, including learning to write an effective résumé, practising interview and networking techniques, and learning office etiquette, telephone techniques, and assertiveness training.
“We were busy. It was so much fun because it’s learning by doing,” Emes said.
Many of the participants were women in their 40s who were preparing to re-enter the workforce after having raised their children. “Everybody came to us employable, but needed some experience or they just needed to update their skills,” noted Emes.
While helping people improve their skills, the program also helped to boost their self-esteem, she added.
Envision North originally was designed to be a one-year pilot project, “because [the government] thought it didn’t apply to a rural area,” Emes explained.
“I think we’ve proven it can work in a small town,” Renaud said.
Envision North was only the third practice firm in Ontario when it opened three years ago.
“Practice firms provide an opportunity that does not exist with any other agencies in town,” Renaud added. “I think it’s a big loss for the community.”
Besides the loss for potential participants, the program’s cancellation also will mean “the loss of two good, full-time permanent jobs in the community. There’s no other jobs at the college,” Renaud noted.
The college employed both Emes and Sharon Hagerty, an employment counsellor, to run the practice firm.
Despite the end of the program, Renaud said Envision North did some important work during its three years here.
“We had a really good run,” she remarked. “We’re really happy we were able to support those participants in the community.”
(Fort Frances Times)