By James Rose

Special to The Pioneer

The Columbia Valley has experienced its share of economic uncertainty of late. Be it Canfors recent closure of its Canal Flats mill, or the federal decision to suspend the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, people and businesses in the valley have faced trying times. Add to this an aging demographic increasingly on the hunt for more flexible and less physically demanding jobs, and problems arise in matching marketable skills to employer needs.

Thankfully, there are educational programs in place to help alleviate the underpinnings of this structural unemployment. One in particular, the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers at the Invermere branch of the College of the Rockies, has been very successful in bridging this gap. Aimed at people between the ages of 55 and 64, the programs goal is for the participants enrolled to achieve one or more of three outcomes: employment, self-employment, or volunteer activism.

Nicole Morgan, the programs co-ordinator, notes that the age group targeted is a growing segment of our valleys population (who) are not all that ready to retire yet.

Developing practical skills with computers, and bookkeeping is combined with teaching soft skills such as communication, goal setting, job search and interviewing skills, she added.

The 14-week course has been ongoing since last spring and consists of ten weeks of in-class study and four weeks of on-the-job training or independent study through enrolment in additional courses. Those admitted to the program (12 for each cycle) are not charged tuition and are eligible for income support up to $1,200 per month and an additional $1,200 training allowance per month throughout the courses duration.

Laurie Klassen, the designated computer instructor, thinks the program is hugely important for the valley. And although she feels the material covered in her class is essential, she feels that whats even more important is increasing in each student their level of confidence.

Computers can be intimidating, especially when computer systems are different from business to business, she said. It is amazing how much more confidence I see in my students when they go through the learning process.

Patti Meadows, a participant in the Targeted Initiative for Older Workers program currently in her last four weeks of study, opted for on-the-job training and has since been helping Invermeres Osteohands Family Osteopathic Care with administrative support. After the course is over, Mrs. Meadows has plans with her husband to start a new tree care business.

The program has really helped build my confidence, she said, and I am now capable of building a website, and doing all of the bookkeeping for the new business.

Mrs. Meadows and her husband are relatively new to the valley after moving from Calgary to be closer to their daughter.

The program was instrumental for me in meeting new people here in the valley and networking, she said.

While she is proud of her new expertise with computers and bookkeeping, by far the most valuable thing for me was the relationships that I formed, she added. Some of the people I met in the course I know I will be friends with for the rest of my life.

Past participants have gone on to find work with Copper Point Golf Club, Invermere Physiotherapy, and Radiums Gas Plus, all in administrative support. For those thinking of applying but still unsure, Mrs. Meadows has valuable advice.

I would really encourage people to assume first and foremost that they are going to be successful. Second, do some research beforehand to know what you may want to get out of the program before you enroll.

For more information, visit the colleges website, call the college at 250-342-3210, drop by the school or email invermere@cotr.bc.ca.