Brain drain?
Fort Smith's mayor wants more full-time jobs at college

Maria Canton
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 10/99) - The mayor of Fort Smith says the short, term-employment opportunities at the Aurora College's Thebacha Campus are hurting the community.

"People are coming and going, they aren't buying houses and we are losing our sense of community," said Mayor Peter Martselos.

But the college claims government cutbacks and the need for flexible staffing as their main reasons for moving to term-employment over permanent positions.

"We understand the concerns of the mayor," said Tim Gauthier, manager of public and corporate affairs for the college.

"But the college lost several million in funding due to government cutbacks, and because of that we had to work out partnerships with funding agencies, changing a lot of our programs."

And the flexibility component is a necessity for staffing the college's satellite campuses and learning centres throughout the North.

"The college runs a lot of short-term programs and many of the programs are rotated from campus to campus," says Gauthier.

"We offer as many permanent positions as we can, we want people to commit to the community and to feel a part of the North."

However, Martselos thinks the college needs an effective long-term hiring plan and better marketing in order to draw people to Fort Smith permanently.

"With so many colleges around the North, they are spread so thin that students don't need to come to Fort Smith anymore," says Martselos.

"And so marketing becomes a very important option, maybe not so much in the North, but they could also look south and attract southern students here."

The mayor says he has brought this issue before council many times over the past three years, but to no avail.

"The college is the backbone of our community, we need to use it to attract people to our community," he said.

At present however, it doesn't appear the college will be able to change their hiring practices -- even the president, Maurice Evans, is on a four-year term.

"The important thing to remember is that the college exists to provide the best educational services that it can and to do that we need to be flexible in a rapidly-changing environment," says Gauthier.

Thebacha campus is the original campus of Aurora College, established in 1968. There are also campuses in Inuvik and Yellowknife, as well as 14 learning centres around the North.