A free course offered this winter at UNBC to train people to become security guards proved not so free for a Prince George man who failed to meet the eligibility requirements.
He learned he was disqualified from the enhanced security guard training program due to the fact he collected Employment Insurance benefits less than three years ago.
He'd also be shut out of the program if he was currently collecting EI cheques, if he'd left a job within the last five years to go on parental leave, or if he'd established an EI claim in the past three years but was disqualified from receiving benefits
"They are telling you they need people to work in banks and airports for security but really they are discriminating against people that don't have employment and that's unfair," said the man, who did not want to be identified in the story.
"Here's a publicly-funded college that's promoting a free security guard course for an industry that needs security guards and they're telling you they won't accept you because you're unemployed. You have to have at least a part-time job or a full-time job or you're not eligible. That just pissed me right off. The whole point of these courses is to employ people."
The man is from Burns Lake, where he says there's no work because of the fire that destroyed the Babine Forest Products sawmill a year ago. He already has a background in security but hasn't worked at a full-time job in a year-and-a-half. There's a shortage of trained security guards in the industry and companies have stepped forward to say they will be hiring the UNBC program graduates.
"The government is trying to target a segment of the population that has been out of work and if they have been on EI they have other government programs for those individuals, so it's not like they're being excluded," said UNBC continuing studies co-ordinator Rob Bryce. "They have access to other pots of money through EI these individuals don't. People think it is restricting, but we do have two avenues. If they are working, then we can still get them in the program as a low-skill individual."
The eligibility requirements for the province's employment skills access programs are determined by the Canada/BC Labour Management Agreement (LMA), set up to prepare people for entry/re-entry into the labour force and to address local and regional labour market priorities. While the federally-funded program gives priority to unemployed workers, it will also consider applicants in lower-skilled jobs currently working in full- or part-time positions.
However, those individuals have to meet certain conditions. Each applicant must have a high school diploma or equivalent qualification; they can't have post-secondary training that counts toward a university degree; and they can't already have a recognized skills certification such as a Class 1 driver's licence or trade certificate.
People who have been assisted by EI are eligible for alternate federal government funding for other skills training programs provided by the Labour Market Development Agreement (LMDA).
"We have two separate agreement to serve different client groups," said Mira Redmond, a program manager for the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.
"Normally [the LMDA training programs are] based on the individual client's need and interest, but that's not to say they couldn't do a similar program, but not this one [at UNBC]."
If there are not enough eligible applicants and a seat is available to a lower-skilled worker currently employed who fails to meet the unemployed eligibility requirements, Redmond said it would be up to the discretion of the UNBC's continuing studies office whether that applicant would get into the program.
"Primarily, the target group is unemployed, non-EI individuals," said Redmond. "On an exceptional basis we can assist people who are employed, if they meet the definition of low-skilled. If they didn't have enough people who are unemployed, non-EI, then they could start filling seats with employed, low-skilled individuals."
Each applicant is required to submit a 1,500-word essay on a topic of their choice which explains why they are committed to taking the course. The essays are due prior to the application deadlines, which are: Friday (UNBC's Terrace campus), Feb. 22 (Prince George campus) and March 8 (Quesnel campus). There are 14 seats available in each city and Bryce says all but a few spots have been filled.
UNBC also offers a free wildland firefighting training program, which carries the same eligibility restrictions as the security guard course. Application deadlines are prospective firefighters are March 18 (Terrace), April 8 (Prince George) and May 15 (Quesnel). Go to unbc.ca/continuing-studies or call 250-960-5680 for more information.
B.C. job program information is available at WorkBCCentres.ca