OLDS — Olds & District Chamber of Commerce president Cassidy Rochemont is cautiously optimistic that a couple of initiatives announced in the Feb. 24 provincial budget could help local businesses.
Finance Minister Travis Toews unveiled the budget during an address in the legislature.
Rochemont is intrigued by the Alberta At Work plan announced that day.
It provides more than $600 million in additional funding over the next three years via post-secondary education, skills training opportunities and employment programs.
Specifically, the Alberta at Work program will provide $72 million in capital and capital funding.
Another $171 million is earmarked to increase student enrolment in areas determined to have skills shortages such as technology, agriculture, financial services and the aviation sector. About 7,000 spaces are expected to be created.
In addition, $30 million has been set aside to help fund an increase in apprenticeship spaces.
The budget says skill development training and employment programs will receive $64 million over three years and $10 million in 2023-24 to combat barriers to employment.
For example, it's anticipated this money could be earmarked to deal with labour issues in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.
“Out of the $600 million funding for new education, skill training and employment programs, I am particularly interested in the $15 million dedicated to attracting investment and creating jobs in rural communities," Rochemont wrote in an email.
“The chamber has heard across various sectors that it has been a tough few years finding and maintaining trained employees.
“Though the amount dedicated to rural communities is a small portion of the total budget, it gives us hope we are moving in the right direction and that we can benefit from some of the other proposed training and educational improvements as well,” she added.
Rochemont said it’s too early to know if the Alberta At Work plan will be enough to help local businesses deal with their labour challenges.
She said she would have liked to have seen more specific actions and an outline of how the supports announced will directly help small businesses.
Like other business sector representatives, Rochemont notes that that the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions imposed to battle it have been tough on local businesses.
“The impacts of COVID-19 have been seen across various businesses and continuous support, both through financial means and on-job employee training will be crucial, as recovery does not happen overnight,” she wrote.