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Federal cuts to job training hit people with disabilities, adult learners

Kentville non-profit organizations forced to lay off staff

by Robert Devet

Melody Aalders and Beth Easson of Community Inc. in Kentville. Melody will be laid off on March 31st.  This will affect people with disabilities who have a job or are looking for one. (The clothes in the foreground are free to people who need to look their best at an interview or on the job). Photo Robert Devet
Melody Aalders and Beth Easson of Community Inc. in Kentville. Melody will be laid off on March 31st. This will affect people with disabilities who have a job or are looking for one. (The clothes in the foreground are free to people who need to look their best at an interview or on the job). Photo Robert Devet

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Support for working people with disabilities in the Annapolis Valley will take a hit come April 1st. The same is true for people who never made it through high school and are now upgrading their education.

Two non-profit organizations, both located in Kentville, are struggling to absorb immediate funding cuts.

The cuts are the result of changes in how federal funding for job training is spent.

The federal government wants to see the lion share of that funding go towards a new employer-led program, at the expense of organizations that used to receive that funding.

The province has told the Kentville non-profits that Labour Market Agreement funding will be suspended come April 1st. Many non-profit organizations province-wide have received the same news.

It is expected that some funding will be restored once federal-provincial negotiations have concluded.

But provincial Minister of Labour and Advanced Education Kelly Regan has said that the province will not be able to replace all the funding that used to flow from Ottawa.

Melody Aalders is an Employment Maintenance Worker with Community Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes inclusion of workers with disabilities in the workforce.

As a result of the cuts Aalders will be laid off on March 31st.

Aalders supports people with disabilities during the job search and once they have found employment.

"The people I work with have really amazing abilities that are quite simply being overlooked by employers," says Aalders. "They really have a passion to go out there, but they don't seem to be able to break down that wall, that's why they come to us."

"It is important for us to be there as a support, to teach those skills that they need, interview skills, the confidence, all that." says Aalders.

"And also for us to connect with those employers and say, listen, I have a client here who has some really great skills, so that if they walk through that door it's not that they only see the limp, or the visible disability or maybe the lack of some social skills."

Beth Easson, Excutive Director of Community Inc. says that through its offices in Kentville and Middleton the group manages a case load of about 250 people.

Employment Maintenance Workers like Aalders are key to the functioning of the organization, Easson says. Waiting lists will likely result from the lay off, she predicts.

"We are partnering with Autism Nova Scotia on an employability program for youths," says Easson. "Now we are working to get them the job placements. We need a job coach for that, and without Melody's position that will take longer."

Another non-profit affected by the funding cuts in Kentville is the Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA).

The organization offers classes and one on one training for people who didn't complete their high school education. It also helps immigrants who are looking to improve their english language skills.

Two people will be laid off on March 31st as a result of the cuts, says Peter Gillis, director of the VCLA. Other staff will see their hours cut back significantly.

Cuts will impact clients and the community.

"These learners are really trying to do what is right, for themselves and their families, but also for society at large," Gillis says.

"On Valentine's Day we asked learners to come in and talk about their successes. Many talkied about how they have given back to their communities. How their eyes have opened on how they too have something to contribute. First of all to their families, but also to the community, through volunteering."

Gillis does not expect that the shift towards employer-led initiatives will benefit his organization.

Employers don't see the foundational skills his organization provides as being their responsibility, says Gillis. Especially not in the case of people who are already working but want to upgrade their skills.

"These are the people serving coffee or working on a farm or what have you. Their hope is to get out of that job," says Gillis. "But there is no way that their employer is going to get them a job grant so that they can get a [better] job somewhere else."

Gillis is also an executive member of the Association of Nova Scotia Community Learning Organizations. Many of the community learning centres province-wide will see their funding cut, on average by 34 per cent, some by as much as 50 per cent, Gillis believes.

Part of the funding will be restored once a new agreement between the province and the federal government is in place. But because of the introduction of the new employer-led program there will be less money to go around.

Gillis is worried about what the future holds.

"I don't feel particularly comfortable [telling the province] that our programs deserve funding more so than a disability group down the road, or a women's group in Cape Breton. It just puts all of us in a really awkward position."

See also: Two hundred jobs of people with disabilities at risk

Follow Robert Devet on Twitter @DevetRobert

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