Dedicated to helping refugees find and maintain employment, the Refugee Employment Development Initiative (REDI) might be coming to Brandon.
Education and Training Minister Ian Wishart confirmed the potential Wheat City expansion during a question period session in Winnipeg earlier this week.
After being relayed this information on Friday, Westman Immigrant Services executive director Richard Bruce was excited about the program potentially coming to Brandon.
"It’s a really good idea," he said. "We’d be glad to participate in it, if given the chance."
Four REDI pilot projects have been rolled out in Winnipeg this year, including one being undertaken by Manitoba Start, whose executive director commended the program for its early success.
Their first round of job placements is already well underway, with 16 refugees currently into their second week of employment in the hospitality industry; specifically, maintenance and cleaning, with opportunities for upward mobility.
By the end of the year, they hope to have helped 54 refugees find long-term employment.
While each REDI project is configured differently, Manitoba Start executive director Judith Hayes said that their program begins with finding an employer who is keen on bringing on refugees whose limited English skills might otherwise create barriers to their finding employment.
The program provides participants with three weeks of pre-employment essential skills training, which includes sector-specific language development.
Once they’re on the job site, their first six weeks’ salary is subsidized. They’re also provided with continued English at work training during their first 10 weeks.
Diversity and inclusiveness training is also available to help make existing employees ready to accept newcomers, and people from Manitoba Start are available on a regular basis to help assist employers and employees overcome whatever bumps in the road might arise.
"I think it’s really important that businesses understand that we can help to meet a need, and we need them to be open to helping us support newcomers settling in Manitoba," Hayes said. "It only works when businesses come forward and tell us what their needs are so we can make a match."
This is the same business-first approach Wishart shared during question period this week, citing plenty of potential for REDI programming success in Brandon.
The hospitality industry is "extremely strong in the Brandon area," he said, adding that another area of attention might be in early childhood education, where there’s a "significant child-care deficit virtually in every rural community in Manitoba and Brandon is no exception."
Brandon Chamber of Commerce president Terry Burgess said that the provincial government shouldn’t have any trouble finding Brandon-based employers keen to take on refugees as employees.
"The biggest thing we hear from our members is around skill shortages," he said. "It’d be very interesting to work with community partners to find out what those skills are and get them to work in our community."
Bruce said that while WIS already helps people find employment in Brandon through various ongoing programming, there always seems to be a greater need out there than they’re able to meet, for the benefit of not only of newcomers, but also the local economy as a whole.
"If we don’t have immigrants coming here, we’ll be short workers," he said. "We’re short workers now, and you can pick service industry, construction; you pick something and they’re basically all looking for workers."
Hayes said that Brandon would be a good match for a REDI project.
"We know that there’s work that businesses in the Brandon area — I would say agricultural, Maple Leaf (Foods) you have out there — that could participate easily in a project like this," she said.
While there haven’t been any announcements as to whether Brandon would get a REDI project, Wishart confirmed that they’re "in the process of consulting with a number of industries in Brandon" and were "also working with the immigration groups themselves."
On Friday, the provincial government declined to provide any additional insight regarding potential REDI expansions.
A byelection in the Winnipeg riding of Point Douglas, set for June 13, limits the province’s "ability to provide interviews or comment on government commitments that have been made but not yet delivered or implemented," a spokesperson wrote in emailed correspondence.
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