By Dan Rankin
On Wednesday afternoon on a field trip just a minute or two down the road from their school, around 40 Grade 7 and 8 students from South Perth
Centennial School got to take a look at some of the 500 cows being raised at Rannoch’s Kie Farms. After the kids learned about how the farm’s newborn calves are fed, one of the parents in attendance, Perth South Councillor Melinda Zurbrigg, told the students to also pay attention to the different types of jobs that go into Kie Farms’ operation.
Next week, Sarah Pelton from the Four County Labour Market Planning Board will be visiting the school to speak to the students about their experience on the dairy farm, and let them know about the many diverse opportunities for young people to get involved in the agriculture industry beyond simply milking a cow.
Unique experiences just like these – things to get the young people of Perth County engaged and aware of the local job market – are hot topics right now. In fact, in St. Pauls on Wednesday morning, the Downie Optimist Hall played host to the Perth Youth Strategy Round Table and Employer Breakfast. There, events similar to this week’s SPCS dairy farm visit were being planned and discussed by business owners and decision makers from around the county, as well as representatives from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
The event in St. Pauls was a partnership between the province, county, Town of St. Marys and the Four County Labour Market Planning Board. It included 13 different exhibitors by local and regional service providers including the county’s jobs website OpportunityLivesHere.ca and RegionalRideShare.ca. It began with a networking breakfast, which led into a round table discussion between business owners, service providers and Perth County youths.
These discussions will be a “springboard to what we’re doing later this fall,” said Perth County Economic Development Coordinator Meredith Forget. “We’re building six core youth strategy teams for each member municipality [Perth South, West Perth, North Perth and Perth East], as well as Stratford and St. Marys.”
Those teams, led by youths – which for the purposes of Wednesday’s meeting meant those aged 15-29 – will be sent “into the communities to really try to engage our youth,” Forget said. “Into the high schools, our youth centres, youth programs, junior farmers’ associations, 4-H. We’re trying to reach out to as many people as possible and get them engaged in this process. Each core team will develop a strategy and an implementation and action plan that will be specific to their municipality, to get them engaged and involved.”
OMAFRA’s Vicki Lass led the round table session, having those in attendance answer such questions as “what do you (or your organization) see as key issues around youth in Perth?” and brainstorm ideas on youth engagement, attraction and retention.
One of those participating in the round table was Town of St. Marys Cultural and Economic Development Manager Laurel Davies Snyder, who will be leading the St. Marys-based “core team.”
“A lot of what I want to understand is, ‘what’s the best way to get youth to participate?’,” Davies Snyder said. “What’s the best way to contact, engage, and design sessions so young people actually want to participate. Is it all online? Or actual sessions? And what time of day?”
As a part of the Perth4Youth Project, each core team will be trained in early 2017 on how to conduct strategic planning, Lass said.
“Last year in Huron County, we trained 50 people for strategic planning facilitation,” she said. “Now, they can facilitate their own strategic planning. They do not have to pay a consultant for it. All the resources can go right into programming. We will be training 30 people with strategic planning in Perth County, and they will have those resources to go forward. We’ll set up working relationships so collaboration comes easier in the future.”
Going forward, Perth County may emulate a model that has previously proven successful in Ingersoll and Hanover, said Lass. For over 10 years in Ingersoll, the Fusion Youth Centre has operated, while the “Launch Pad Youth Activity and Technology Centre” opened last year in Hanover serving Grey County.
“They are skills training centres,” she said. “The youth are learning things like computer programming and how to write code and to do other great things. Launch Pad, in November, will be opening their welding shop and commercial kitchen.”
Employer support has been key to the success of Launch Pad in its first year, she said. “They’re donating their time to teach the skills that are missing in their hunt for employees. They’re donating equipment so they can train youth on the equipment in their workplace. They’re really connecting with youth and letting them know they value them and want them.”
Gemma Mendez-Smith of the Four County Labour Market Planning Board said that it was with evidence, such as the kind being collected in Perth County right now, that helped Launch Pad become such a success.
“The youth had lots of input so, it’s no wonder it was a success within the first year,” she said. “Something like that can certainly be a vision for what will happen for youth in Perth County.”
To learn more or participate in the strategic planning process, contact Perth4Youth advisory committee member Carrie Parsons at Carrie.Parsons@Ontario.ca.