Changing lives at the Valemount Learning Centre

/ ANDRU MCCRACKEN

by Andru McCracken

If the new manager of the provincial employment program, Mike Johnson, seems excited about the services Valemount Learning Centre can provide to clients, it’s for good reason: the employment program changed his life.

After working 21 years in a tree seedling nursery in the lower mainland Johnson was suddenly let go. He went to see an employment advisor. It led him to make some remarkable changes in his life.

“I discovered things I didn’t even know about myself,” said Johnson. “This was at age 45.”

A two week course help him discover his values and interests. And it led him in a completely new direction.

He hadn’t been aware that he was an introvert for example.

“Being aware of that helps you not only in school, but in all walks of life,” he said.

That was just one of things revealed to him.

“I started seeing a case manager and started working towards getting funding to go to school,” he said.

That led him to Valemount, first as an employment advisor, now as the program manager for the employment program.

If you are unemployed, underemployed, or interested in making a change Johnson has a simple request: come by.

“There is always something we can do,” said Johnson, “we can help you with resumes and cover letters, mock interviews, job search techniques, all these kinds of things. Everybody is eligible for that.”

He knows that there are many people in the community that have no idea how the centre can help, in the same way that he hadn’t even thought about seeing an employment advisor.

“We still have people coming in and saying, ‘Wow I didn’t know you do this,’” said Johnson.

Valemount Learning Centre Executive Director Riette Kenkel has high praise for Johnson as he takes on the new job as manager of the provincial employment program.

“What I like about Mike in his previous role and upcoming role, is he has always been open to learning,” Kenkel said. “He is going to lead by example and continue learning from people around him.”

Kenkel and Johnson hope to spark an interest in the Valemount Learning Centre because their services are sometimes overlooked.

“We can work with people who may be multi-barriered and have bigger issues. We can advocate for them, build up a portfolio for them, set them up with volunteer work with employers to build up their resumes,” said Kenkel.

“We don’t see a lot of those clients, we don’t know if it is because they don’t live in Valemount, or it’s because they don’t know about the program.”

Kenkel said that the centre is much like Valemount: changing and growing.

“Come and talk to anyone on the team about your needs and we will let you know how we can help you,” said Kenkel. “The coffee is always hot.”

She said that the centre keeps conversations strictly confidential.

“We understand it can be sensitive when people are going through difficulties in their lives,” she said.
Johnson isn’t the only one taking on a new portfolio. Darcie Wikstrom is the new Employment Advisor. Katerina Tinsley is taking the position of bookkeeper. Sandy Salt is the Administrative Services Coordinator and will become the Continuing Education Program Coordinator. Gail Burbidge is the new Youth Network Administrative Assistant.

The changes were set in motion as Carol Bullock, the Employment Program of BC Manager leaves for Calgary to be with extended family and a new grandchild and the departure of Jolene Plett.

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