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Winter 2004 Edition- January 2004 Volume 4

In Conversation With... Barbara Kierstead-Shanks

A graduate of the University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus, Ms Kierstead-Shanks is a career government employee serving with both the federal government (HRDC) and the provincial government (Training and Employment Development -TED). In 1997, HRDC and the provincial government signed the Labour Market Development Agreement that transitioned employment program delivery and management, training and the Employment Insurance fund from the federal government to the province of New Brunswick. With this transition, a number of federal employees became members of the provincial civil service.

HC: What do you do in the position of Regional Director?

BKS: As Regional Director, I am responsible for managing the Employment Division of Training and Employment Development in the Greater Saint John area. This involves managing a staff of 24, a programming budget of approximately $16 million annually and acting as lead for the department in our region. Another aspect of the position is considerable partnership work with other provincial departments; federal departments on a project by project basis, as well as private/ public committees.

HC: What is the mandate of the department of Training and Employment Development?

BKS: The mandate of our department is to assist New Brunswick in developing a well functioning and developed labour force. We address these issues through two main approaches, our Labour Market and Employment sections, as well as our New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) division. Our maxim is "The Right Skills. The Right Balance. The Right Job." By addressing both sides of the issue, whether it is with employer training and programs or providing educational resources to train people up to a level where they are able to participate in the labour market, we as a province are better positioned for future sustainability and growth.

HC: Speaking of Employers and Employees, what types of services does your department offer?

BKS: For employers, we are able to offer wage subsidies during training periods to assist with covering the business costs of expansions and startups, as well as adjustment services. Adjustment services is a program that is not as well known as our wage subsidies, but it can have a very positive impact on companies, especially when human resources issues have been tentatively identified by clients, but the solutions are not as easily uncovered. Through the adjustment process, a committee is formed and a consultant is brought in to work on identifying possible solutions and helping the client through the implementation phase. The cost for the adjustment service process is costshared between the client and Training and Employment Development.

For employees, there are many different sources of assistance for training and skill development. We have a program in place where employees can work with employers to gain experience in their chosen field of study; we also have the Workability program that helps to reduce the barriers to entry in the workforce for persons with disabilities. Through Employment Services we are able to offer targeted training to various segments of society, occasionally through 3rd party contracts, such as the John Howard Society. Probably our most well known program is the Summer Employment and Experience Development (SEED) program to help provide summer jobs to students.

HC: In your position, you have an opportunity to work with clients from all industries and sectors and are able to get a high level view of trends within the labour force and human resources. What has been the biggest trend you have noticed?

BKS: The biggest trend is that companies are starting to recognize the importance of finding the right Human Resources fit for now and in the future. As a result TED has changed the focus of Adjustment Services from financial and business planning to strictly HR. Five years ago the biggest challenge seemed to be access to capital, but now the challenge is access to the appropriate human resources. The economy has changed a lot with the introduction of contact centers. The pool of labour that was previously available to retail, customer service and entry level positions has been absorbed by the contact centers. So for many positions, there is a scarcity of candidates, and the starting wage has also had an impact on what available candidates are willing to work for.

Another trend or change that I have seen is the requirement for a higher level of skill among workers. Many employees are now crosstrained for more than one task and the increasing focus on computers in office, as well as manufacturing and industrial environments has changed the skills that companies are looking for in employees.

HC: What is the most common challenge you see for companies today on the Human Resources front?

BKS: With out a doubt, the biggest challenge for companies is finding employees with the right skill set for their organizations today and possessing the ability to grow with company. Companies also need to look at HR planning and succession planning. This will be an ongoing challenge for businesses. The province doesn't want the companies to close because we need the revenue and products that the companies produce, so we need to support them in meeting their Human Resources needs.

HC: Okay, now we know what types of challenges companies today are facing, what are the easiest and most cost effective things companies can do to easy their HR burden?

BKS: Number one is complete and up-to-date job descriptions. A lot of companies don't bother documenting job requirements, competencies or responsibilities, as a result, they can hire the wrong skill set or hire for a position that is no longer required or out dated. Job descriptions provide a means of ensuring all positions fit together within an organization and that they make sense in the broader terms of the organization as a whole.

The second thing employers can easily do is recognize the value employees contribute to their company. The employee base is an organization's most valuable resource and they need to invest in those people. You can't just hire someone and trust that they will be able to grow with the position. Larger companies are starting to recognize this fact and as they start to provide added benefits to their employees, this will start to put more pressure on small and medium sized enterprises to do the same. This money that is spent on employees must be viewed as an investment as opposed to a cost.

HC: What do you see as a longterm trend for human resources solutions?

BKS: Companies have to start to look at how they can minimize their human resource requirements, whether it is through technology or new production methods. With a shrinking population and workforce, we will need to get more done with less people. Also, employers will need to become comfortable with looking outside the local area for highly skilled talent. Employees who can fit into these niche markets will be receiving offered nationally, if not globally, so companies will have to offer compensation packages that can compete on a global scale.

HC: Do you have any closing thoughts that you would like to share?

BKS: Employers need to recognize that Training and Employment Development can be a partner for them in New Brunswick, but in order to do that effectively they need to share information. Also, the earlier you bring any partner in to the discussions, the better the resolution.

The new Labour Force Development Officer (LFDO) positions are a great example of that. Through local resources and local relationships, we can develop solutions that work for the local communities. One other point I would like to make is that professional development is important, no matter what stage or your career you're at. One of my responsibilities is to "train-up" so that there are people prepared to move up in the organization. Information changes, but people get comfortable with what we do and how we do it, professional development not only gives us new approaches and courses, it's the networking. You can be comfortable picking up the phone to share best practices or talk through challenges if you've actually met someone, then working in a silo with the same information and the same people. Fresh ideas and new information are key to continued growth.

Heather Chase is a Labour Force Development Officer with Enterprise Charlotte, a community economic development agency in New Brunswick. She can be reached at heather.

Stress in the Workplace

In today's climate of downsizing and loss of job security, the term 'stress' has taken on serious proportions. More than ever, people need to have strategies to manage their stress. We all know the role that exercise plays in improving our health and feeling of well being. The impact that physical activity has on our mental health cannot be overlooked. Research has shown that the physical changes that take place during exercise actually have an effect on our mental functioning. Endorphins are released during exercise, which help to lift depression and can allay stress. Blood flow is increased during exercise so that internal organs and muscles benefit from improved circulation and oxygen delivery.

Diet is also an important factor in helping us deal with stress. The healthier our diet, the better we feel and the more capable we are in dealing with stressors. Proper nutrition makes us stronger not only physically but mentally as well.

A good support system is crucial in helping us deal with burdens. A listening ear, a compassionate friend, or a caring family member enables us to share our feelings, thoughts and fears. This is very cathartic.

Knowing that we are not alone in facing our troubles can be the difference between handling stress and feeling alone, desperate or out of control.

Everyone needs a break sometime. This is true of stress, as well. It is very difficult to be under stress 24 hours a day. The impact on our health and physical functioning can be adversely affected. It is crucial that especially under times of stress, we take repose from it all. Find a place to go to forget about your troubles even if only for 15 minutes a day. The stress will be there when you return, but you may feel a bit more refreshed and better able to deal with things.

Diversion activities are extremely helpful during difficult times. When times are tough, the tendency is to retreat and keep to ourselves. This is a habit that we would be wise to change. Seek out others. Pursue recreational interests. Join your local community group. Volunteer and help someone in need. You would be surprised how 'therapeutic' social and community involvement can be.

Assertiveness training can be a major step in helping a person deal with stress. A passive individual learns how to appropriately express his/ her opinions thereby feeling less taken advantage of. The aggressive person can learn how his/ her attitude and behaviour affect other people and how to express views in a socially acceptable manner for desired results. In both cases, stress can be relieved and the individual's repertoire of skills is enhanced.

Relaxation techniques benefit the individual by learning how to physically calm down and lower the impact of the stress. The result of relaxation and deep breathing on the body cannot be underestimated.

Time management skills, goalsetting techniques, and life planning strategies can all help an individual better deal with stress. These are not skills that we are born with. Many of us need extra help in understanding their significance and their relation to stress. Coaching in these skills is sometimes necessary to enable a person to deal with the day to day annoyances as well as the major stresses.

Learning how to set priorities, plan and pace oneself are crucial steps in balancing one's life and thereby keeping stress in check. These skills enable a person to maximize the occupations of work, household chores, family, leisure, and self-care. Building in time in one's day for rest and relaxation can help to alleviate the day's stressors and avoid some of the health problems that prolonged stress can have on one's body.

Consider also the position you assume in doing your day's work. Proper positioning is an important factor in avoiding muscle fatigue and muscle stress. Our environment and how we position ourselves can make a difference on how we feel physically and therefore emotionally.

We do not always have control over the stressors that come our way. We do, however, have control over how we choose to react to the stress and pressures of daily life. Many of us need to learn strategies and techniques to better cope with life's challenges.

Adeena Wisenthal, OT Reg. (Ont.), M. Ed. (Counselling), owns and operates a private practice in Ottawa known as ERGO-Wise. Adeena may be reached at adeena@ ergo-wise. com


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