CBRM organization wants to relaunch women-focused employment project

·4 min read
The Ann Terry Society would like to relaunch its employment project in the wake of the closure of Island Employment. (CBC - image credit)
The Ann Terry Society would like to relaunch its employment project in the wake of the closure of Island Employment. (CBC - image credit)

A Cape Breton organization that spent three decades helping women find employment is hoping to secure government funding once again now that Island Employment has shut down after a damning report from the province's ombudsman.

The Ann Terry Project, which was the flagship project of the Ann Terry Society, had long offered supports for women entering the workforce before funding issues led it to partner with Island Employment — a relationship that ended two years later in 2018 amid growing tension between both organizations.

The Ann Terry Society now focuses on pre-employment programming by getting grants for individual programs and partnering with community organizations.

Rosalie Gillis, chair of the society, said now is the time for the province to fund women-focused employment programs.

"Women have taken a terrible hit with [this pandemic]," said Gillis. "And once women are out of the workforce, it's very difficult to get back into the workforce again."

The pandemic has hit low-earning women harder than any other group in Canada, according to a 2021 report by the Labour Market Information Council. Women make up the majority of workers in the hospitality industry, which has suffered during the pandemic. Women also represent the majority of single parents.

'The needs are different'

"Many women coming in looking for assistance in finding employment are dealing with barriers related to poverty; they're on income assistance, they're poor, they don't have transportation, they can't afford a car, self-esteem is low, child care is an issue," said Ann MacPhee, program manager with the society.

"The needs are different, so the solutions need to be different, as well."

MacPhee said women often earn less than men, resulting in many women with male partners quitting their jobs to stay home with their children during the pandemic. Some mothers who were working remotely because of COVID-19 also left their positions because juggling at-home learning with work became too difficult.

Besides benefiting potential employees, MacPhee said helping more women get back into the workforce could help with labour shortages.

"Women are a huge pool of untapped labour while employers, at the same time, are crying for people," she said.

Issues with Island Employment

In 2016, the province stopped funding specialized employment services and instead began funding organizations like Island Employment that catered to all. After it was announced that the Ann Terry Project would no longer receive funding, public outcry led to the organization partnering with Island Employment.

Funding for the project was distributed by Island Employment and members of the Ann Terry Project sat on the agency's board of directors.

But issues with the management of the project and the way the board conducted itself led to the Ann Terry Society members walking away and subsequently ending the long-running program.

"They all felt very uncomfortable with a lack of transparency over how the organization was being run," said Gillis.

"They had a top-down [approach]; staff were not involved in board meetings, except for the executive director, and we weren't necessarily feeling we were getting all the information around how the project was run."

Brittany Wentzell/CBC News
Brittany Wentzell/CBC News

Island Employment closed in November 2021 after management was accused of a misuse or gross mismanagement of public funds and the provincial government terminated its contract early.

Now that Island Employment has dissolved, Gillis and MacPhee said they want to get funding for the Ann Terry Project again.

Both women said if that happened, they would be prepared to restart the project immediately.

"We know that the model we used in the Ann Terry Project in 2016 worked. It was little cost, big outcomes," said MacPhee.

No plans to fund more providers

But the province said that changing the funding model is not on the table right now.

The Department of Labour, Skills, and Immigration, recently replaced Island Employment with the YMCA and le Conseil de développement économique de la Nouvelle-Écosse in some of the Acadian regions of Cape Breton.

Nancy Hoddinott, an executive director with the Department of Labour, praised the Ann Terry Society for its pre-employment programs, but said the province is not planning to add any providers to the umbrella of Nova Scotia Works.

Hoddinott said she feels confident the current organizations operating under Nova Scotia Works are able to provide women- based services, and the fact that 50 per cent of clients are women shows the organizations are meeting their targets.

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