Change comes in many forms and is often difficult for those facing it, especially when they feel that change is happening to them rather than for them. But like all change it needs to start at home. And over the past year the Chamber has gone through an extensive plan to reimagine, reinvent and rejuvenate itself. To reimagine what is possible for our members and our community we needed to acknowledge the demographic shifts in our labour market; to be more equipped to assist local businesses evolve into the globalized player we believe they can be. We needed to align our structure to new strategies that optimizes our value and effectiveness at implementing critical changes. It has included a reinvention to more accurately reflect the current environment and adapts to a strong desire to create constructive partnerships rather than combative ones. With initiatives currently underway through our collective ambition, we are creating strategies that are building more diversity of thought, experience and inclusiveness. A new model that ensure we are maximizing opportunities in every relationship built into the future. It’s this greater purpose we have crystallized into our accountabilities of action, influence and advocacy that we are rejuvenated by an elevated sense of our higher standards and values.
To begin with, a premium must be placed on education by building on technology developments and by demanding even more innovative thinking. Over the years Chatham -Kent has moved away from employment that creates physical widgets and needs to dream big about innovating digital ones. We were an economy of production and manufacturing and have overly depended on “traditional” employment. The empty lots and buildings scattered around us don’t need to be replaced with car manufacturing or food processing plants to resemble a Chatham-Kent of 20 years ago. It will be the creative and innovative businesses that today can start up at a click of a button and rapidly expand their global reach through emerging technology like social media that will carry our economy forward. All of this is done from the comfort of a home office and as a result we will continue to see shifts in our labour landscape. Chatham-Kent’s ability to sustainably grow and move forward economically will demand we accept change at a pace like none experienced ever before.
To thrive in these new global economies we need to help businesses become more agile and more nimble. It must be our collective ambition to accelerate our next generation of business owners and workforce into a leading economy and a Municipality of collective strength.
In a recently conducted survey through Workforce Planning: Of all new hires in the past 12 months, 43% were for part time occasional employment and 20% contract or seasonal.
What is the challenge ahead of us; population estimates predict moderate growth, yet Chatham-Kent continues to see declining enrolment rates at our schools that are 9 times that of the province.
Currently with our schools at 70% capacity and an expected decline to 64% by 2029 we need to re-evaluate our protectionist ideals that keep us divided. Since 1998 LKDSB has needed to close or consolidated 14 elementary schools, 2 secondary schools and 1 Adult Learning Centre. What we are facing is significant learning and skill gaps created by disproportionate funding for dated and costly facilities that no longer meet standards and requirements for today's learners. Education “is” a social fabric of our community; it is “not” the bricks and mortar that hold any community together. A school consolidation is not a loss of social significance. It does create the means to maximize financial resources, to build modernize facilities, class rooms that incorporate “smart” technology, it buys 100’s of new computers and funds leading education programs.
Though it can’t stop there!
The #1 reason for positions that are “hard to fill”, a lack of education, industry credentials or technical skill! Two thirds of employers today require a Trade Certificate, College Diploma or University Degree as the minimum level of education for meaningful employment. Sadly 60% of CK residents have no postsecondary education. In short our labour force has fallen behind, it lacks the skill and educational background required for local businesses to grow and expand. It limits our attractiveness for higher paying, more competitive and fulfilling careers.
What we have recognized is the need to further post-secondary education. This is a priority, and through the Community Leaders Cabinet we must improve our education achievements. In order to attract businesses that are creative, innovative, that provides meaningful employment we need to develop a capable workforce. One that is skilled, trained and educated enough to create new local employment opportunities in an effort to retain our most talented people. In a joint community effort with key partners we are focused on championing the Canada Learning Bond. As a government incentive program within existing RESP structures it comes at no risk or cost while encouraging families to invest in higher education. Sending more CK children to college or university is a strategy everyone needs to get behind. Our goal to increase the number eligible families receiving “free government” funds from 23% to 70% in over the next 5 years can be achieved when we decide to work as partners in this community.
If moderate population growth in Chatham-Kent can be attributed to immigration, either foreign or domestically we need to embrace the differences that make us all the same. This is why the Chatham-Kent Chamber has created a Diversity Council dedicated to work in partnership with existing Community and Municipal groups to better understand and leverage the collective strength a diverse municipality offers. With a clear understanding of unique challenges we become better equipped to support our First Nation community, help single parent families, both mothers and fathers, find meaningful employment where they can shop local, buy local and stay local.
Engaging with our municipal libraries as a key strategic partner to learn about the needs of newly immigrated Canadians we can work to develop business initiatives with employers that are inspired through diversity to see the value and competitive advantages our new friends create. Making Chatham-Kent an even more dynamic tourist destination where a universal culture is encouraged, celebrated and demanded for all businesses to succeed.
The message I wanted to share with you is about change. But the change I am talking about can’t happen in our future. That change happens now! As leaders in the community we need to help businesses and employee’s transition into a modern global workforce; one that enables them to thrive in an even more globalized economy. To achieve that Chatham-Kent needs to modernize its thinking, its attitudes and its actions. We will work harder to foster innovation, accept our growing diversity and shed any conscious and unconscious biases. If we are willing to do that we can challenge ourselves by building on existing partnerships and finding unfamiliar ones. We can capture the opportunities that emerging economies bring. The Chamber is capable and willing to accept that challenge.
Resiliency, by definition means the ability to recover quickly from setback.
Chatham-Kent, it’s been 20 years!