Ottawa picks private firm over charity to help vets find work

OTTAWA—Veterans Affairs will spend upwards of $ 10 million to have a private company help veterans find work in the private sector, taking over a role that had been done by a charity.

The federal department awarded a three-year contract to Oshawa-based Agilec to provide career transition services starting April 1, prompting the charity Canada Company to wind down its own job placement program.

“A charity can’t compete against a publicly funded private company. We really don’t have an option,” said Blake Goldring, a Toronto businessman who is the founder and chairperson of Canada Company.

In recent years, the charity has run an employment transition program to assist personnel who are leaving the military find work in the private sector. It has been a two-pronged effort. It helps personnel with job-hunting skills, such as preparing resumes. And it educates employers on the talents that military personnel can bring to a civilian workplace.

The program has placed more than 3,000 personnel in jobs since its creation and has formed partnerships with more than 200 employers. The charity got $ 1.1 million in 2016 to develop a database to assist with job searches but the cost of its transition program has been covered by corporate donations and other sponsors.

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Canada Company had submitted a joint bid with the March of Dimes and another organization for the contract but lost out to Agilec. As a result, Canada Company will stop offering transition services on March 31.

Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan said the government was looking for “something more comprehensive.”

“It was an open and transparent process . . . Canada Company bid. Agilec won. As far as we know, this will mean a better service for veterans,” O’Regan said in an interview Tuesday.

He said the prime minister gave him clear “marching orders” when he took on the role. “Making that transition into civilian life is our top priority. And it has to be from the point of view from the veteran,” he said.

Mary Nicholson, director of rehab and income support services at Veterans Affairs, said the program to be delivered by Agilec is new, different than what was offered by Canada Company.

She says it resembles a previous career-transition program that was provided by the private sector for the department in 2006. That was subsequently replaced in 2011 by a $ 1,000 payment to veterans for career transition.

However, the 2017 budget signalled the government’s intent to redesign and improve the career-transition services provided to veterans and provide funding to make it happen.

Nicholson said the government sought a service staffed by individuals who had experience in employment and career counselling and an “extensive” knowledge of the civilian labour market.

“It will be offering a much broader set of services,” Nicholson said. “That is why the decision was made to go with a third-party contractor for this new program . . . not to say Canada Company didn’t have lots of expertise.”

“The government decided that something more robust around career-transition services needed to be offered,” Nicholson said.

An official with Agilec declined to comment on the contract and referred questions to Veterans Affairs. But Nicholson said the department is confident that the company has the skills needed for the job.

It’s expected the service will assist about 1,000 veterans per year over the next three years.

Goldring was reluctant to say much about the decision.

“The key is getting the very best solution for transitioning members of the military,” he told the Star in an interview. “I’m very proud of what Canada Company did in helping putting career transition services on the radar. I’m very happy that money has been made available to institutionalize something which is so critical.”

In an open letter on the organization’s website, Goldring said Canada Company’s program was a “catalyst for putting military career transition services on the national radar.”

“We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished . . . and the impact we have had on the lives of thousands of military families, coast to coast,” Goldring said in the letter. “We’ve played an important role in driving a supportive culture around helping military personnel obtain employment in the civilian workforce.”


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