The director of Jasper's only employment centre fears it could close if the province changes the way employment services are administered in northwestern Alberta.
The Jasper Employment & Education Centre provides employment counselling services and other supports for job-seekers. The non-profit receives funding from both the federal and provincial governments, but the contract with the latter ends in February.
The provincial government's recent request for proposals, which closes on June 4, includes opportunities to provide career and employment information services and job placement services to up to three regions in northwestern Alberta. The regions span multiple communities, including Grande Prairie, Slave Lake and Peace River.
The allocated budget for the region that includes Jasper, Whitecourt, Fox Creek, Edson and Hinton is $594,000. The successful bidder would serve an anticipated 120 clients, according to the RFP.
Ginette Marcoux, executive director of the JEEC, said if the new model replaces community-based contracts, fewer Albertans would receive employment services. Her centre alone provides employment counselling to 150 clients per year.
"People are very concerned about what this means to their communities," she said Friday in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
Marcoux also takes issue with a requirement, listed in the RFP, that 80 per cent of clients who access the employment services be referred by Alberta Supports.
The RFP states these referred clients will have high barriers to employment, such as a criminal record or limited English.
Marcoux said her employment centre has only seen a handful of client referrals per year from the government over the past five years.
The referral requirement, she said, creates an unnecessary step for unemployed Albertans and means less support for walk-in clients.
"There is nowhere else to go," said Stephen Nelson, a Jasper resident who has participated in programs at the employment centre for years.
He said the centre is the first stop for many newcomers searching for work in the town, especially this time of year.
'No plans to close employment centres,' province says
Community and Social Services press secretary Rob Williams said in an emailed statement that the ministry will be working with the Jasper centre "to identify and plan for the employment service needs in the region."
"There are no plans to close employment centres in the province," he said, adding that the government recognizes many Albertans are looking for work and value walk-in employment supports.
The RFP says "transition of services from existing job placement contracts will occur during July and August of 2021."
"We are not reducing physical offices or in-person services, although at this time some services have been limited due to COVID-19," Williams said.
Marcoux said she welcomes the opportunity to speak with the province. In the meantime, she is speaking with other employment service providers and encouraging alarmed local employers and organizations to contact provincial officials.