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Jobs Now program draws mixed reviews from St. Albert businesses

The joint venture between the federal and provincial government will provide up to $370 million to businesses to hire new employees.
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Mike Howes talks business with employee Yasna Robinson at Sparklean DKI. Howes will be hiring new people, but not through the Jobs Now program.

Mike Howes, president of Sparklean DKI, thinks the government's new employment program is all smoke and mirrors.

“I don't think it's going to really do any good. I don't think people are going to hire just because 25 per cent of their wage is going to be paid. And I think it's going to pay out a bunch of money to businesses that otherwise don't need it,” he said.

On May 19, the province announced the Alberta Jobs Now program, which will provide up to $370 million in funding to businesses across the province to hire new employees. Businesses in the private and non-profit sectors will be able to apply for funding that covers 25 per cent of a new employee’s wage.

Howes believes the program is going to attract businesses that don’t necessarily need money to hire new people.

“From what I've read, I can apply for this … my sales are up nearly double. Certainly, over two years, we're in double territory. So why does a business like mine need to get 25 per cent of my new staff wages paid?” he asked.

The grant can be used to cover training or salary costs and covers a 52-week period to a maximum of $25,000 per employee. Employers are able to apply for funding for up to 20 new employees, but employers can't hire anyone who has worked with them in the past 90 days. New hires must also reside in Alberta.

Howes said he hired two people last week and intends to hire two more in the coming week. If he applied for the Jobs Now program, which he has no intentions of doing, he could get one free employee for every time he hires four.

“Not a bad gig. I’m not trying to shoot myself in the foot, but I just don't see how consciously I could apply for that. I don't need that assistance right now.

“I think there should be a mechanism in there that prevents a business that's doing well, from capitalizing on this and (taking) advantage of it,” explained Howes.

The government should be offering more support to the hospitality industry, theatres, and bowling alleys, said Howes.

“These types of people, they've been decimated here the last year with, with COVID, and they need some help. And I think they need more help than just 25 per cent of their new hires' wage. That's not going to cover it,” he said.

Howes also thinks there’s potential for the program to punish workers who haven’t been off work for the full 90 days.

“But jeez, say I've only been off work for 30 or 60 days and if they hire me, they gotta pay the whole wage. If they hire my buddy down the street that was unemployed, they get 25 per cent of his wage covered,” he said.

The unemployment rate sat at nine per cent in April and Alberta currently has the second-highest unemployment rate in Canada.

Curtis Crouse, chair of the St. Albert and District Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of A-1 Heating and One Hour Plumbing, said he is not one to criticize and he won’t be critical of the government when the government is trying to help businesses.

“It helps get people back to work, and it helps businesses put a growth strategy in place that is partially subsidized by the government,” he said.

Crouse doesn’t think the program will create new jobs, but he thinks that businesses that are on the fence about hiring someone might pull the trigger.

“I think that if someone was looking to hire somebody that might push them over the edge, which would then get another person employed and, you know for business, hopefully, there’s more growth because of it,’ he said.

One area the program covers is the cost of training a new employee. Crouse said this is an issue businesses face when dealing with new hires and it is also an issue people who have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time face.

“Technology is changing at a pace we've never seen it change before. So anyone who is getting back into the workforce that hasn't worked for a couple of years, they will be in for a steep learning curve,” he explained.

Crouse said training is one of the biggest cost burdens he has in his business.

“It’s a good first step. It gets us going in the right direction and that's all we can really ask for right now … we just have to keep pulling on the same rope and we'll get this thing back on track,” said Crouse.

The program is a joint venture between the federal and provincial governments. The federal government is giving $185 million in funding through the Workforce Development Agreement. The provincial government is covering the other $185 million through provincial funds.

The first round of applications for the program opened on May 20 and will end on Aug. 31. The second round of applications will open mid-September.

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