Labour Market Forum lays out path to address workforce challenges


Our region continues to experience challenges associated with labour shortages, supply chain delays, rising costs of living, and increased demand on social and community services – threatening the wellbeing of many vulnerable people. 

United Way East Ontario works with community partners, governments, private sector organizations and people with lived experience to create solutions to the tough problems.  

On an early Tuesday morning in May, the fourth floor at Algonquin College’s Waterfront Campus in Pembroke was buzzing with a group eager to talk about labour market inclusion for underrepresented groups in Renfrew County. Building an equitable workforce is one of the tools we can use to break the cycle of poverty for many marginalized communities.  
Algonquin College hosted the Labour Market Forum in partnership with United Way East Ontario, Lanark-Renfrew Labour Market Group and Lanark-Renfrew Local Immigration Partnership. In his opening remarks, Jamie Bramburger, Manager of Community and Student Affairs at Algonquin College, suggested that there is a “tsunami” of issues coming as the region ages. More than 23 per cent of Renfrew County’s population is now 65 years of age or older. In particular, the aging population will put great stress on the health care sector, but “there are opportunities if we can find ways to attract and retain talent from underrepresented groups,” said Bramburger. 

Understanding the barriers to workforce inclusion

Nine panelists with diverse backgrounds spoke about their experiences and challenges living and working in Renfrew County. They discussed the barriers they faced finding and maintaining employment, such as a lack of access to public transportation, learning a new language, re-training for a new field of work, misconceptions about how employers must accommodate a disability in the workplace, and more. 

De gauche à droite : Daniel Larente, Volodymyr Ivanov, Matt LeMay, Manvi Manvi, Rohithshajan Kolamkanny 
De gauche à droite : Crystal Martin-Lapenskie, Ben McMurchy, Olivia Reed, Pat Wolfe 

Volodymyr, a newcomer to Canada, talked about the challenges he faced when he arrived from his war-torn country of Ukraine. “My problem was English,” Volodymyr explained “I tried to improve with lessons, but it’s really hard when you can’t explain and only use simple words to express. Before I moved to Canada, I was an engineer.”

For certain groups, finding employment that is culturally safe and accepting of their unique identities and experiences can be an added challenge.  

Matt LeMay, cofounder of Indigenous Geography and former member of the Labour Market Group addressed the need for better education on the history of Canada to understand the complexities Indigenous people face when it comes to employment.  

“Indigenous youth are the fastest growing segment of the population. In Renfrew County, close to 10 per cent of the population is Indigenous. As a community, we have to be radiating our welcomeness,” he said. 

Crystal Martin-Lapenskie offered a potential solution to foster workplace engagement with Indigenous youth.  

“Indigenous people’s history of learning is hands on, and mentorship is a great opportunity for young people to get exposure. There’s a space of respect for elders with Indigenous youth.” 

Collaborating to identify the path ahead

After hearing from the panel of speakers, attendees at the Labour Market Forum discussed potential solutions to labour market challenges. Some highlights included: 

  • Cultural sensitivity training  
  • Learning about the benefits of hiring people with disabilities 
  • Recognizing international credentials and creating easier pathways to employment 
  • Flexibility with job interview approaches including by phone, online and in person, and flexible work hours and environment, such as needing a chair or stool
  • Investment in on-the-job training, internships and mentoring 
  • Hybrid work, work from home and in-person work flexibility coming out of the pandemic 
  • Strengthening high-speed internet connectivity in rural communities
  • More collaboration, partnerships and outreach among community service providers and other stakeholders

Working together on solutions to the tough problems

With diversity of experience comes greater potential for creative problem solving. But we have to recognize the benefits and share them with our community. We have to take risks and be willing to change the way we do things. This forum provided an opportunity for people who may not traditionally work together, to connect and support new and existing mechanisms.  

As our communities recover from the effects of the pandemic, United Way works with our partners across sectors to address the root causes of poverty so fewer people fall through the cracks. By hearing from people with diverse experiences and involving them in solving problems, we can create an inclusive and equitable economy where everyone thrives. The Renfrew County Labour Market Forum was one of many opportunities when we can listen, learn, and plan for a brighter future.  

“If we do work together to help one another, the sky’s the limit, but there has to be unity.”

Help support a more equitable labour market in our community.



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