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The Oxford Workforce Development Partnership is working on several initiatives designed to attract more workers to the region

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Woodstock landlord Adam Kitchener says finding skilled trades people has become increasingly difficult. (Submitted photo)

Woodstock landlord Adam Kitchener says finding skilled trades people has become increasingly difficult. (Submitted photo)

Even though as a landlord he is surrounded by contractors, at times finding one to tackle a job has become increasing frustrating.

“I actually just renovated an apartment in Woodstock and have experienced a very tough time finding trades - let alone having trades call me back,” said Adam Kitchener, who recently renovated four units on Delatre St. in Woodstock.

After contacting three different painters, three plumbers and four tile specialists, Kitchener said he managed to complete the unit.

“I am lucky for the most part to be surrounded by a team of contractors that I have known and trusted for 10 years, but still in busy seasons or holiday seasons I find myself struggling to find decent quality trades,” he said. “It seems to me there is a shortage of quality skilled trades people and the ones that are good, are too busy or slow to respond.”

A shortage of skilled trades in the area, and across the country, dates back decades, according to local experts.

“The issues we are facing are not unique to us,” said Brad Hammond, an economic development officer with the City of Woodstock.

The current situation in skilled labour is the result of a convergence of issues including a shortage of students studying the trades in college, the retirement of skilled baby boomers, as well as a number of people opting to not participate in the workforce.

And then there is the booming economy with unemployment rates hitting historic lows.

“The economy is pretty hot and all the employers we have talked to are looking for employees,” Hammond said.

Natalie Surridge, program director for the Oxford Workforce Development Partnership (OWDP), said the partnership has been around since 2010 and meets regularly to address employment issues in the region and look for solutions.

They have identified a labour shortage, but not just in skilled trades.

Jobs on the top ten list of shortage also include customer service representatives, French teachers, farm labourers, welders and general labourers.

“It could be even someone pushing a broom in a factory,” explained Len Magyar, Woodstock development commissioner. “It’s tight everywhere. Every city in Ontario is experiencing a problem.”

The OWDP, which includes partners from across Oxford County, has been working collaboratively to find solutions for labour issues.

Surridge said one example is the workinoxford.ca website, which lists both jobs and volunteer opportunities across the county.

“That’s the type of things the partnership is doing,” she said. “It’s marketing and promoting jobs in Oxford County.”

The site also assists those starting a business and helps with the job hunt.

Another initiative includes a newcomer attraction strategy, which focuses on attracting new residents to smaller communities.

Dollars are now available, through the Canada-Ontario Job Grant, for employers to provide specialized training on the job, she said.

Magyar said they have hosted a number of job fairs, including ones in other regions such as Peel, to promote the area.

A direct result of their work in that region, Magyar said, is the hiring of three former Peel residents, who now live and work in Woodstock.

HRivers@postmedia.com