Long-running WorkLink in Colwood

WorkLink survives provincial funding shakeup

Come April, the big job board at WorkLink will still be layered with dozens of help-wanted ads, all offering hope of gainful employment

Come April, the big job board at WorkLink will still be layered with dozens of help-wanted ads, all offering hope of gainful employment or a fresh career.

But behind the scenes, the West Shore’s main employment centre will be in transition, if not mild turmoil, as it works out the operational kinks under a new provincial funding model.

WorkLink is one of several dozen agencies in B.C. awarded a provincial employment assistance contract in December, a major victory for the 33-year Colwood-based service.

The new funding plan consolidates some 400 employment service providers under the umbrella of 73 geographically-organized outfits – WorkLink’s catchment covers the West Shore to Port Renfrew.

“We feel fortunate we got the contract,” said Jennifer De Luca, executive director of the non-profit WorkLink Employment Society. “If we hadn’t bid or hadn’t got the contract, we would close.”

Indeed, employment organizations such as Spectrum Job Search in downtown Victoria will be replaced. GT Hiring Solutions was awarded the contract for five areas in B.C., including Victoria and Saanich. Beacon Community Services will manage employment assistance for the Saanich Peninsula.

For WorkLink, the contract means its budget is tripled to about $3.3 million per year, but about one quarter of that will flow to 12 subcontractor social service agencies, such as Victoria Disability Resource Centre, Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre, the John Howard Society and PEERS.

“If a client living in Langford needs immigrant services, we send them to that and help fund that organization,” De Luca said. “Our funding includes a lot of money to fund everyone else.

“For our clients though there should be very little difference. We’ll still be here to help with employment counselling, with the resource centre,” she said. “If someone needs a job, we will determine the services needed to get a job.”

They key change for WorkLink is shifting to a “fee for service” model instead of block funding, meaning the society gets paid for each service rendered, such as building a resume, job training and career planning. Some clients might need a few hundred dollars worth of employment assistance, some might need multiple programs worth thousands.

“Funding could help pay for tuition, and a living allowance and job retraining,” said Janice Booth, assistant director of WorkLink. “For some people it could be $1,000 per month. So $3.3 million doesn’t go that far.”

De Luca said this contract is risky for the society, as it remains unclear if it will cover costs for the expected 1,800 clients per year. In April, WorkLink will likely layoff some of their 36 staff as a consequence of the new model, as the workload is spread to the other 12 sub-agencies.

“Our board of directors thought long and hard (about seeking the contract). It’s much risker for us, but they believe in this place and the staff we have,” De Luca said.

“We’ve been in business a long time and we will continue to provide good services. We won’t cut corners. The organization has a value system that won’t change.”

The new funding model has potential drawbacks, but it does allow for a more direct financial support for clients, such as money for work gear. “If they need work boots, we can do that. In some ways there’s more financial support,” De Luca said. “We can do bus tickets and job start up money.”

“I’m happy we got the contract. We worked like dogs to get it. I haven’t been more worried in 25 years,” Booth said. “I’m happy it’s all over. Now we just have to implement it.”