Pedro Barata, Executive Director at Future Skills Centre, discussed with CanadianSME recently how the Future Skills Centre and Ontario Chamber of Commerce are helping all businesses access reliable and reliable information and assistance in this post-Covid-19 time.
Pedro Barata, Executive Director at Future Skills Centre
Known for his strategic leadership, active voice on social policy, and commitment to community building, Pedro Barata’s career and extensive volunteer work in the non-profit sector spans two decades.
As the Executive Director of the Future Skills Centre, Barata works with the key project partners to realize the Centre’s mandate and objectives: to build a network of key partners and stakeholders, lead and invest in cutting-edge research, test and evaluate innovative projects, and ensure that knowledge is shared and acted on.
During his tenure as United Way Greater Toronto’s Senior Vice President of Community Impact & Strategy, he oversaw United Way’s $94M community investment and partnership strategy as well as communications, policy and public affairs, research and evaluation, and cross-organizational strategy. Prior to joining United Way, Barata held roles at the Atkinson Foundation, Family Service Toronto, Social Planning Toronto, and the City of Toronto. Barata holds a Bachelor of Arts from York University and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Toronto.
What is the motivation and inspiration for partnering with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) and what are you trying to accomplish through it?
The motivation is to support small businesses in forging a path to economic recovery and preparing for the future of work. This partnership between the Future Skills Centre and OCC aims to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) bolster skills development and talent retention to support growth. The OCC represents a diverse network of 60,000 members through 157 member chambers of commerce and boards of trade. Its extensive connections to SMEs at a grassroots level make it uniquely positioned to collaborate and drive this project forward to succeed on a national scale. This initiative will help SMEs address the many challenges they face by giving them tools and resources to tackle skills gaps and labor shortages. An online training and learning management program will support at least 200 small businesses in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada by helping them upskill and train their employees.
How have labor market disruption and the pandemic in particular impacted small and medium-sized enterprises?
Many SMEs have faced severe labor market disruption due to the pandemic, with lockdowns and business closures. However, even before COVID-19, 40 percent of SMEs identified skills shortages as a major competitive challenge.
Although SMEs drive economic growth, businesses often cannot stay competitive since they lack the resources to upskill and train their employees – hindering growth, recruitment, and retention of new and diverse workers. These SMEs often work on tight margins with very little extra time or money to develop a skills strategy. They desperately need access to resources and tools to enable them to recruit, train and retain staff, as well as ensure that the skills of their team members are keeping pace with business needs for the future.
What are the Future Skills Centre and Ontario Chamber of Commerce doing to help all businesses access reliable and reliable information and assistance?
FSC is investing $3.7 million in partnership with OCC to give businesses an injection of support to tackle skills gaps and talent shortages with the launch of a training and learning platform. This platform will include curated content that builds on work spearheaded by the Diversity Institute and utilizes Magnet’s technical infrastructure to connect users to a wide range of free resources on topics including leadership, diversity and inclusion, mental health and wellness, digital skills, and regulatory compliance. These will be in the form of short courses, e-learning modules, and other workforce tools. We are sharing skills and training content that is cost-effective and customized to meet the unique needs of individual companies. Full details of the partnership are available in the news release and on the FSC website.
How do you see the impact of this initiative for SMEs over time?
It will help SMEs build resilience and address the challenges they face in shifting to new business models, giving them a place to turn when they and their people need support in learning new skills. Nurturing business solutions by creating digital tools and resources is a crucial step in supporting the workforce of the future. Training content will be identified, sourced, and validated to meet the needs of SMEs across Canada, including at least 30% of SMEs led by equity-seeking groups. Training on diversity and inclusion aims to reduce hiring barriers for these groups. This investment is part of FSC’s strategy to test approaches that anticipate and address labor market disruption and invest in research and training partnerships that prepare people for the future of work.
On a final note, what is your key advice to small businesses during this recovery phase?
We want SMEs to know that we empathize with them and appreciate the challenges they are facing, and we are working with the OCC and business leaders to support SMEs as they move toward recovery. It’s going to be important for all businesses to recognize the need to stay current, and that will mean reskilling and upskilling for many of their employees. Continuous learning and a focus on skills can help to address and solve the problems that have blocked their path to prosperity. All of this hinges on an inclusive recovery that includes other types of support to ensure that vulnerable and disadvantaged groups are not shut out of the recovery. That will require cooperation between business, government, community organizations, and boards of trade as we work collectively to build back better. We encourage SMEs to connect with their local boards of trades and chambers of commerce to learn about the availability of resources and tools they need to survive and thrive in the economy of the future.