by Mary Moszynski

FREDERICTON – The provincial government is turning to business leaders and organizations to help tackle the challenges facing the labour force.

The groups will consult through an online forum and a series of meetings before presenting recommendations at a summit being organized for early 2008.

The main topics being studied include skills demand, labour market information gaps, future human resources needs and barriers preventing residents from entering the workforce.

However, Don Lenihan, an Ontario resident hired by the Liberals earlier this year to “engage” New Brunswickers, insists the exercise isn’t simply another government study or consultation.

“This is not a consultation process in any conventional sense,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of consultations.”

Lenihan stressed groups and businesses will have a role to play in implementing the plan.

More than 35 groups and individuals will be consulted during the process.

“I am pleased to launch this unique process that will bring together and engage stakeholders through a combination of Internet-based and face-to-face meetings, leading up to a Skills Summit early next year,” Labour Minister Ed Doherty said in a statement.

“More specifically, together we will develop and implement an action plan containing solutions to issues in key areas of mutual concern with respect to the labour market,” he said.

Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said either the government has a plan ready to be released in the fall or the exercise is really a call to action.

However, he questioned the effectiveness of online tools, given business owners facing difficulties recruiting employees are simply too busy to devote time to such projects.

He also wondered whether government is considering any interim projects to help tackle the problems.

“Many things that they can do have been identified over the last five, 10 years as the labour shortage has been coming,” he said.