Workplace Education Manitoba, which helps workers improve their essential skills, unveiled its new 7,000-square-foot workplace training centre on Waverley Street Thursday.
But while business and labour applauded the new digs, they’re more impressed with the skills training programs the organization has provided since the early 1990s — programs that are the envy of most provinces.
"It’s an absolutely phenomenal resource for our companies," said Ron Koslowsky, Manitoba vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. "It’s a hidden gem" whose services are still underutilized, he said.
The impetus for the centre and recent increases in provincial job training spending came from a 2005 report that showed 42 per cent of Manitobans lacked essential skills training.
Workplace Education Manitoba (WEM), directed by a committee of government, labour and business representatives, helps individuals and employers identify skills that need improving and then custom-designs programs to meet their needs.
These skills range from literacy and computer use to problem solving and adapting to new work processes.
"Employees will hide their lack of skills in many areas. They get very good at covering those things up," said Koslowsky, who co-chairs WEM’s steering committee with Heather GrantJury, who heads the United Food and Commercial Workers’ training centre.
This often leads to frustration among workers and employers when difficulties emerge in adapting to change, he said.
Companies can avoid this by using WEM to help with skills assessments and training needs.
Jonathan Coté, a WEM spokesman, said that Steinbach-based Loewen Windows and Doors, for example, used the organization’s services to prepare workers for the introduction of its new demand flow manufacturing (DFM) process.
"T hey c a me to us before t h at a nd s a id, ‘Can you go through the whole process with our employees and see if there are any essential skills enhancement that needs to happen before we introduce our DFM process?’ " Coté said. The educational organization then helped the company develop its training plan.
Darlene Dziewit, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said the skills assessments offered by Workplace Education Manitoba help immigrant workers and others obtain recognition for their skills.
She called the organization a model of co-operation between government, labour and business, and said WEM has never been more relevant than in today’s uncertain economic times.
"Having this new centre up and running for essential skills gives us a leg up, and it may help Manitoba weather the (economic) storm a little better," Dziewit said.
What is Workplace Education Manitoba?
It’s a provincial government organization that helps individuals and companies with essential skills assessment and training. Its programs are funded by the province and Ottawa.
What are essential skills?
They include written and oral communication, numeracy, computer use, problem solving, the ability to read symbols and interpret graphs and charts, and continuous learning.
What happened Thursday?
The organization unveiled its new 7,000-square-foot multi-classroom essential skills centre at 1000 Waverley St.
What’s on the horizon?
By summer, it hopes to open a drop-in centre for individuals. Services will include skills assessment, agency referrals, customized training plans and even individual tutoring.
How do you get more information?
Call 272-5030 or go online to wem.mb.ca.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.