We should never be surprised when politicians, the media or just everyday Londoners hit the panic button when we get ever worsening news about our unemployment numbers. In fact, you could hardly blame them. But first, let’s address what nobody seems to want to talk about and that is that our 9.1% unemployment number includes St. Thomas and other area communities within our Census Metropolitan Area (CMA). That doesn’t make me feel any better and it sure doesn’t make our friends in St. Thomas feel any better but it’s the truth and we should bear that in mind.
It’s also been implied by some politicians in this very paper, that organizations in the city that receive public funding are not doing enough or that they are not meeting collectively to resolve our unemployment challenges. And they name them – the LEDC, SWEA, Tech Alliance, the College and the University. Also implicated (more or less) in that same story is the Chamber of Commerce. And, while it’s true that the Chamber is “committed to the enhancement of economic prosperity and quality of life in London” (excerpt from our Mission Statement), the Chamber is in no way publicly funded, nor does it have economic development or job creation in its mandate.
To be clear, and while there is no obligation to do so, we have very strong working relations with the LEDC, the City, the College and the University and have on occasion assisted both the Tech Alliance and SWEA with their respective initiatives.
That being said, it may be useful to share with Londoners what efforts the Chamber has undertaken to in part, address this growing concern. First, we have recently completed a very successful partnership with the London Middlesex Immigrant Employment Council (LMIEC) with a year-long project titled Global Experience @ Work (GE@W). This was a strategy to better integrate Internationally Trained Individuals (ITIs) into the workforce. The mission of the project was to increase awareness among London Chamber members (particularly SMEs) of the need to attract, recruit, hire and retain ITIs; and to connect London Chamber members with the tools and resources available to them.
Was the mission accomplished? And how! In fact the results were rather stunning. Specifically we wanted to connect 50 ITIs with employment, mentorship or a volunteer work experience placement opportunity. To date, 109 ITIs have found commensurate employment, been matched with a mentor or received a volunteer work experience placement. 34 of them found commensurate employment at a Chamber member company; 44 were matched with a mentor at a Chamber company; and 31 were provided with a volunteer placement opportunity.
Newer initiatives designed to increase export market opportunities and attract job-creating Foreign Direct Investment into London include the Chamber initiated and award winning ABOC (Asian Business Opportunities Committee), HBO (Hispanic Business Opportunities Committee) and recently GBOC (Global Business Opportunities Council).
Collectively, these new undertakings are populated by private sector Chamber members, representatives from the LEDC, the City’s Administration, the Mayor, the University through Kings College, Fanshawe College, Export Development Canada, Schulich School of Medicine to name a few.
The ABOC arm of this grouping has already completed two successful missions to China in 2012/13 where critically important MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) were signed with partner groups in Nanjing, Chongqing, Chengdu, and the Sichuan Provinces Chamber of Commerce for Import Export. More are anticipated with Korea, Japan, and possibly Brazil under the GBOC mandate.
On another note, the Skills Crisis, easily the number one barrier to competitiveness in Canada is being tackled head on by the Chamber’s President of the Board, Gus Kotsiomitis through his hand-picked task force. Efforts are already underway to develop both provincial and federal policy resolutions designed to require both levels of senior government to resolve this critical issue and much of that momentum will come through the London Chamber’s own policy committees. Further to the Skills Crisis issue the Chamber has commissioned the Hon. Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to come to London on April 30th to head up an esteemed panel that will not only identify where the skills gap is hurting us the most, but how we can work to solve it.
Lastly, The Chamber has played a key role along with the Ontario Chamber in rolling out the all-party supported “Emerging Stronger” document – a Transformative Agenda for Ontario which has identified five priority areas where we as a province and as a city need to focus our efforts in transforming our economies and getting people back to work. They include: Fostering a Culture of Innovation; Building a 21st Century Workforce; Restoring Fiscal Balance by Improving the Way Government Works; Taking Advantage of New Global Economies; and Championing Strategic Investment in our Competitive Advantages within the Global Economy.
So is the Chamber then satisfied that it is doing all it can to boost our economy and help to create jobs? Emphatically NO – and it never will be. But the Chamber has a plan and it intends to follow it.