It all started in the early 90s when Local 2000 developed the UFCW Training Centre with the intent to offer education and training to not only it’s 2,000 members but also unemployed workers. At the time, thousands of workers were being laid-off due to restructuring and cutbacks, so the focus became to assist workers in finding meaningful employment. A mission statement was then created “To encourage and provide all members equally to reach their full potential by creating a bridge to lifelong learning thereby enhancing their working and personal lives.”
Programs for marginalized and at-risk workers were quickly proving success to the lives of participants and government funding quickly followed, as did different partnerships with employers and community organizations. Federal and Provincial funding kept on growing over the years, leading to three additional training centres opening across the province by the end of the 90s.
In 2002, Local 2000 merged with Local 777 and became our existing Local 247. By then, the training centre had developed some of the large programs, which included TRADES, 45+ Employment Program, Professional Cook Program, Discovery to Apprenticeship, Women in Trades, Skills Plus, Skills Link Hospitality and Greater Vancouver Urban Aboriginal Strategy. These programs employed more than 50 people, including Program Managers and Coordinators, Administrative Assistants, Bookkeepers, Facilitators, Counsellors; all under the guidance of Nolan Eddy and Denyse Iorio, whom our scholarship programs are now named after.
With a change in government in 2005, funding for these successful programs started to be cut and new structuring models were required in order to apply for and run the programs. Slowly the programs continued to be cut until the last one expired in 2015.
Thousands of lives were positively impacted by the many resources that were made available through the training centre. After the government funded programs ceased to exist, the current space was utilized to expand on an already extensive array of programs that were exclusive to our union members and their immediate family members. General interest courses, Arts and Crafts, Health and Wellness, Computers and Technology. Free courses that were available to members who were able to commute to the centre in New Westminster. All these in addition to the steward education offerings that also took place at this location, given the space available.
Since the pandemic started, there have been very few in person training sessions and those have been steward or bargaining committee training. There hasn’t been any of the extended courses where members sign up and attend. We have been talking about the future of training and we all find it difficult to imagine it returning to the old in person courses any time soon.
Earlier this year we were notified by our landlord that the training centre’s building had been sold. We approached the new owners, Lookout Society, to see if they were interested in taking over our space. There was a little back and forth, but we agreed that we will vacate the Columbia Street building by the end of September.
The recent pandemic served to help us asses our operations and we believe that moving out of the New Westminster location will not impact the education commitment we have with our members, especially our stewards. Our education efforts will be strictly focused on engaging our membership through labour and community-based education.
The pandemic also gave many members the opportunity to access webCampus for the first time; enrollment has seen a significant increase this past year so we will continue to encourage members to access education through this on-line platform. Our local’s Education Department will continue to supplement webCampus with additional local offerings.
Throughout the years, many people have come and gone through the training centre. UFCW 247 is proud of all the contributions and thanks all who made the training centre a success for so many workers. Education will not stop when we no-longer have a location to call “Our Training Centre”. Your education department will continue to operate using different resources and venues.
During last night’s Telephone Townhall announcement, President Dan Goodman added “Although this scenario makes perfect sense, it was a difficult decision as we have quite a history in training. We will utilize the meeting space in the Surrey office should we require in person facilities and rent if need be. Ximena, our Coordinator of Education and Engagement, will move to Head Office which, with her new role, was going to happen anyway”.