The City of Kingston has received $633,000 from the Future Skills Centre, a research consortium funded by the Government of Canada, to expand the scope of the Workplace Inclusion Charter project first launched last August. Local businesses that commit to the Charter are provided with assessment tools and guidance to help them attract, support, and retain a more diversified workforce.
“If the Charter was simply a document that everyone signed, it would be stuck in a drawer,” said Craig Desjardins, Director of the Office of Strategy, Innovation and Partnerships at the City of Kingston. “This is a program about action and about real change.”
The Charter Strategy outlines 20 employer commitments across four categories: organizational culture, policies and procedures, employee recruitment, and employee retention and career development.
Once enrolled, a business can access intercultural training for employees, analysis of their recruitment and talent management policies, on-going inclusion coaching, and other resources. According to a statement from the City, the coaches come from under-represented groups with lived experiences of workplace exclusion. KEYS Job Centre and St. Lawrence College have partnered with the City to facilitate the delivery.
Project renews amid pandemic shutdown
The pilot started in August of 2019, with an initial focus on helping newcomers to Canada. The new funds will let the City and its partners broaden the Charter’s scope, and develop programs that support racialized people, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities.
The extra support comes at a crucial time, Desjardins said, when the economic impacts of COVID-19 are already putting disproportionate pressure on employers and workers.
“One thing that is really of concern to the City and to the Kingston Economic Recovery Team (KERT) is the unevenness of who is being impacted,” he said. “Certainly we’re very concerned about the pandemic and the economic recovery impacts [on] other under-represented groups. They’re at a disadvantage when the economy is good, and it’s even worse now.”
He said the additional tools to help ensure that all people and employers are supported is a very important part of the economic recovery strategy.
Participation from companies big and small
Desjardins said so far there are over 25 signatories to the Charter.
“What we were really pleased about that pilot component was the uptake from literally every different side of the business, every different sector,” he said. “It wasn’t just your bigger companies with an HR department. It was your mom-and-pop, smaller businesses.”
Desjardins said part of the uptake is a recognition from business owners that diversity helps their bottom line, and adds to creativity and innovation.
“This isn’t just the right thing to do, which it absolutely is — the ethical and moral thing to do. But it is good for business. For attracting talent, for knowledge as companies grow and target foreign markets, having someone who speaks the language and understands the culture brings incredible incredible value,” he expressed.
With the new funding secured, Desjardins said the Charter’s momentum is building.
“KEYS has just hired the first coordinator and a few of the first ambassadors. Part of the program is to train those ambassadors and create the model for how they provide help,” he said. “Once they develop a plan, [they] provide ongoing support and advice, and then celebrate that success.”
“It’s been exciting to see the Workplace Inclusion Charter gain momentum in Kingston as we work to ensure our community is welcoming and inclusive for all,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson. “This funding will go a long way as we take the established blueprint and expand it to support other marginalized groups.”
The expansion of Kingston’s Workforce Inclusion Charter implementation is one of 30 projects identified by the Future Skills Centre as an essential solution to support Canadians transitioning to new jobs or industries.
Pedro Barata, Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, said their contribution to the Charter expansion is one way they hope to broaden systems that support employers, service providers and under-represented groups in the labour market.
“Expanding the Charter to support vulnerable populations such as racialized people, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous people is an important step for the City as it works to create more resilient working environments and aims to attract and keep new talent to balance anticipated future workplace shortages,” Barata said.
Future Skills Centre is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program.