In Conversation With... Barbara Kierstead-Shanks
REGIONAL DIRECTOR , EMPLOYMENT REGIONAL OFFICE -SAINT JOHN , NB
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
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
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
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
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
Heather Chase is a Labour
Force Development Officer with
Enterprise Charlotte, a community
economic development agency in
She can be reached at
Stress in the Workplace
PEOPLE NEED STRATEGIES TO MANAGE STRESS
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
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