By Stuart Fullarton
The Rimbey and District Employment Centre will close its doors at the end of September, as a result of what the province says is low area unemployment rates.
“The unemployment rate in the Central region is hovering below three per cent right now,” said Alberta Human Services spokesperson Charles Strachey. ”It was two-and-a-half per cent last month, which is considered full employment, so really, everyone who is ready and able to work is working.”
As a result, the province’s contract with the Lacombe Action Group to provide employment services to the Rimbey area will not be extended beyond the end of next month.
But that doesn’t mean remaining job seekers will be abandoned, said Strachey. Means are being put in place to ensure they’re able to receive a similar, if not the same, level of assistance in helping them find work.
“We’re improving services for residents who are having more difficulties finding employment, and employment services are going to continue on in Rimbey, they’re just going to look a little different,” said Strachey.
A request inviting employment service agencies to bid on a contract has been issued, he added. In October, however, job seekers will still have access to local career counsellors, as well as a number of online services such as job searching tips and an online résumé review.
“We’re just delivering the services in a different way, and really putting a little bit more emphasis on those last remaining few people who need a little bit more help,” said Strachey.
But not everyone is on board with the centre’s closure. Rimbey mayor Rick Pankiw feels there are certain employment services offered in person that can’t be replicated online or via any other means.
“The employment centre gives people who are unable to travel to look for jobs the opportunity to walk downtown and talk to Monika (Rondeel — the centre’s employment counsellor) and see the jobs posted,” he said. “Not only that, but sit with her, tell her what it is they are capable of doing, and then she was going out and trying to fund jobs for these people.
“I believe that’s why the unemployment rate not only in Rimbey, but across Alberta, is low — because employment centres are helping that.”
Pankiw added the centre’s closure would be a “huge loss” to the town.
Rimbey CAO Lucien Cloutier said he couldn’t comment on the matter from a corporate perspective, as it hadn’t been formally presented to council by press time. From a personal perspective, however, he saw the closure as being “not a positive thing.”
“One reason (stated for the closure) was that the unemployment rate has been quite low, but I would suggest that possibly — and likely, perhaps — part of the reason that it is low is because we’ve had success in having that office here,” he said. “My concern is for those people who are needing those services and whether or not this is going to be harmful to their level of accessibility.”
Pankiw said the matter was to be discussed at last night’s council meeting (Aug. 25) before council would determine what, if any, actions could or would be taken to prevent the centre’s closure.