Meet the Mobilizers

(Left to right): Best Western General Manager Christine Latimer stands with members of Mobilize, The Great Canadian Work Experience Steph Lazaire and Alex Starkowski, along with former program
member Joel McDougall. / EVAN MATTHEWS

by EVAN MATTHEWS

The Best Western in Valemount hosts new guests every night, but it’s not just the guests calling the hotel their temporary home.

Alex Starkowski and Steph Lazaire are part of Mobilize, The Great Canadian Work Experience.

“At some point I decided, ‘I’m just going to do it while I can,’” says 21-year-old Starkowski, who has been in Valemount for just over two weeks, initially hailing from Mississauga, Ontario. Starkowski says this is the first time he’s left home.

“I finished school and I would’ve just been working this summer… I might start my career next summer, or travel Europe… It depends on opportunity,” he says, adding he’s leaning toward a career in the justice field.

The Mobilize Program aims to recruit 18-30-year-olds who are willing to relocate for seasonal opportunities. The program pairs young people with businesses all over Canada to provide youth with paid six-month work experiences.

Starkowski says he stumbled upon a recruiter at a job fair in Ontario, who hooked him up with the program.

“Being here for two weeks now, we’ve already been to Jasper… There are so many beautiful places and views around here,” Starkowski says.

The program requires employers to house employees in fully furnished environments – in this case, Best Western staff housing – though employees pay their own travel costs.

The program’s ultimate goal is to facilitate travel for young Canadians, while they earn money and learn new jobs.

“I was working at Canadian Tire, and I had my own apartment and all that,” says Steph Lazaire, 20, who came from Grand Prairie, Alberta.

“I was living paycheque-to-paycheque. I’ve always wanted to travel, and a friend and I were looking into plans and accommodations. Once (I) found the listing on Indeed.ca, I sent in my resume and I was on the road within two weeks,” — Steph Lazaire, 20, Mobilize participant from Grande Prairie Alberta

“I was living paycheque-to-paycheque. I’ve always wanted to travel, and a friend and I were looking into plans and accommodations.

“Once (I) found the listing on Indeed.ca, I sent in my resume and I was on the road within two weeks,” he says.

The Mobilize Program is addressing needs on both sides of the coin: young Canadians’ need for work, and businesses’ need for employees.

Christine Latimer, the Best Western’s general manager, says the hotel — which staffs roughly 75 people in peak season and 55 during the slower seasons — used to acquire seasonal workers through Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program, but has been using the Mobilize Program since March 2015 as an alternative.

“The problem we ran into, or at least I was told, is we had enough people in our region so we didn’t qualify for the (Temporary Foreign Worker) Program any longer,” says Latimer, saying at the time the hotel was shutting down rooms because it didn’t have enough staff to keep up with cleaning.

“The program has helped, definitely. They’ve all come with a great attitude and skillset… Most of them just want to do a bit of travelling and find where they want to be in life,” she says, adding there have been few workers who didn’t work out, with one person simply deciding Valemount wasn’t for them.

While many of the Mobilize-associated employees work cleaning jobs, Latimer says they cross-train all employees on most jobs including front desk, kitchen, and the restaurant, etc.

Maybe the most compelling aspect to the Best Western’s experience with the Mobilize Program is the fact that six of the program’s participants have actually stayed in Valemount.

Joel McDougall, 20, came from Prince Edward Island. He’s no longer a participant of the program, but he has remained in Valemount. In fact, he left and came back, he says.

McDougall says his first placement was in Valemount, and then he had a second stint elsewhere before leaving the Mobilize Program. He’s since returned to work at the Best Western on his own accord, he says.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself in coming here,” says McDougall.

“I’ve learned a lot, too, about the things around me and how to travel. It’s simple day-to-day stuff — street smarts,” he says.

No matter what their futures hold, all three young men agree on a couple of things: the Mobilize Program has been a life changing experience for them, and Valemount isn’t such a bad place to be.

Any businesses interested in the program can register at http://www.mobilizejobs.ca/.

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