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Jobs matchmaker gets funding to expand

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The global economy seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis, causing massive disruptions in labour markets, some of which may never be the same.

At the same time, there has been an almost constant level of frustration from employers in Manitoba and elsewhere about not being able to find enough skilled workers.

Even with many jobs disappearing, leaving workers without access to traditional types of employment, the challenge of tapping into a mature, experienced labour pool remained elusive.

Could it be the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (MCC) has found a partial solution to the problem? Two years ago, the MCC started a pilot project called ThirdQuarter, funded with $2 million from the federal government, to provide an online matchmaking service for workers over 50 years old (in the third quarter of their working life) in 14 rural communities across the country.

It's worked so well the program is now being expanded to large cities across the country.

"I am astounded with the success of the pilot project," Graham Starmer, president of the MCC, said Wednesday.

The service (at www.thirdquarter.ca) prompts potential employees and employers through a survey to determine skill levels and experience.

Software, designed by Winnipeg's Modern Earth, spits out potential matches for the employer and then automatically sends emails to both the employer and employee about the potential match.

Details about a potential placement are then left up to the individual parties to work out.

In the first two years, almost 2,000 firms registered and posted more than 3,000 jobs. About 5,500 individuals registered and the system came up with 23,500 job matches. The ultimate number of actual hires has not been documented, but it's believed about 1,200 positions have been filled.

The success was acknowledged by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who invited Starmer and his team to Ottawa last year to talk about expanding it beyond the rural pilot project.

In the last federal budget, the Harper government said it would set aside $6 million over the next three years to grow the program and on Wednesday $780,000 was formally committed.

Fittingly, Winnipeg will be the first big city to have access to the proprietary matchmaking services.

Canada Safeway is one of the star examples of employers that have benefited from the program. Thompson was one of the sites of the pilot project and the Safeway store in that northern Manitoba city hired a couple of 50-plus-year-old workers.

John Graham, the western Canadian grocery giant's Manitoba spokesman, said older, experienced workers provide a unique benefit to the company.

"Older workers benefit our stores in many ways," Graham said. "They are flexible as to when they are available to work. They often relate better to our customers because of their experience and perspective. They can identify customer needs and really put a great value on delivering a level of service that they would expect."

It also helps a company like Safeway to have a staff that reflects its customer base.

You might think it shouldn't have been so hard for Safeway and those older workers to connect.

But those workers whose former jobs may have become newly obsolete are likely not as comfortable to utilize traditional job-posting sites as a younger person just entering the workforce.

Barbara Bowes, president of Legacy Bowes Group, a human-resource consulting firm, said even though there are many agencies that help various constituencies of unemployed people find work, many prefer to find a job doing what they have always done and don't want to be retrained.

"ThirdQuarter gives employees access to jobs they probably wouldn't see advertised," she said. "They don't want to go to the employment office and search job boards. This is real fast and real convenient and frankly, it's working better than I thought it would."

In an effort to become self-sustaining, Starmer said, ThirdQuarter will start charging employers about $400 per job posting, which is still much less than large employment sites.

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2012 B5

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

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