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‘Ontario Works’ to focus on employment

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“Ontario Works” is undergoing changes that will mean a shift in focus for staff and, hopefully, a shorter path to permanent employment for clients.

The program is shifting to an employment outcomes-based approach from the former activity-centered one.

“It is a big shift for our staff. We’re becoming more of an employment counsellor rather than providing monthly assistance,” said Shelley Shute, the “Ontario Works” manager with the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board.

Shute presented the local DSSAB with their “Ontario Works” service plan for 2006/07 at the board’s regular meeting earlier this month, where it was accepted.

“It always has been the goal when you come on social assistance, we hope that our clients find the shortest route back to employment,” she said.

But in the past, clients were expected to job seek independently by looking through the classifieds, making calls, and knocking on doors.

“Our main focus now is moving people towards employment, helping them gain more employable skills, and for us actually to make contact with employers to see what the job market is, to see where they need people,” Shute explained.

“Before, it wasn’t quite the push towards employment as much as it is now,” she added. “We focused more on putting them out in community placements, having them volunteer, to add some types of things to their résumé.

“Whereas now we’re actually looking at putting them into training courses, sending them out to job interviews, having them come back to us and see how the job interviews went, if we’re able to help them with their job interviews in any way.”

“Ontario Works” has sent out letters to employers in the community, letting them know the program now will be able to help them pre-screen and find employees.

“We’ve had response to some of those letters already,” Shute noted.

Though initial response has been good, the overall state of the economy will determine the success of the program in the long run.

“Given our local economy, we have a lot of challenges in front of us,” Shute admitted.

The changes to “Ontario Works” were made based on consultations with stakeholders, service managers, and clients across the province to create a new vision of social assistance that “treats our most vulnerable with fairness and dignity, and provides effective, integrated employment to help them prepare for, find, and keep jobs,” the Ministry of Community and Social Services said in a document released back in October.

Funding for the program now will be based on employment outcome measures: employment, earnings, and increased employability.

The employment outcome will be measured by the percentage of the local caseload with employment income, the percentage of the caseload exiting the program to employment, and the job retention rate.

Indicators for earnings include the average amount of employment earnings for participants who earn a wage, the average wage at the exit of the program, and the average earnings 12 months after exiting the program to employment.

The increased employability outcome will be measured by the average length of time to employment, and the percentage of clients completing steps in accordance with progressive, goal-oriented action plans to increase employability.

2006 is a transition year for the program, and the increased employability outcome will not be attached to funding for the first two-year cycle.

The overall goal of the program is to help non-earning clients find employment, as well as to help working clients increase their earnings, to the point where they can leave social assistance.

(Fort Frances Times)

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