IT supplier portal opens chapter in Toronto

Canada’s non-profit sector is expanding a program that uses a database to help high-tech companies source office supplies and other services from firms that hire at-risk youth and others who have difficulty entering the workforce.

The Social Purchasing Portal has already created 70 mostly full-time new jobs since it opened more than two years ago in Vancouver. The Toronto version is being launched in partnership with the Learning Enrichment Foundation, Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment Services and ITAC Ontario. Vendors were recently invited to a supplier “trade show” to provide more information about the Toronto Social Purchasing Portal that will be hosted by ITAC Ontario on Feb. 15.

A Web-based tool that facilitates procurement of basic goods and services, the original Vancouver Social Purchasing Portal was conceived by a program called Fast Track to Employment. David LePage, who is running the Social Purchasing Portal as a national initiative, said it grew out of talks with B.C. Technology Social Venture Partners to help find entry-level jobs for inner-city residents.

“This was in 2002, and the IT sector was laying people off,” he said. “The sector also doesn’t have as many entry-level jobs as Europe does. In talking to them, however, we realized that they all buy office supplies, they all use caterers, and they all have offices cleaned.”

Early adopters include Pivotal Corp., a customer relationship management firm that hired CookStudio Catering in Vancouver to provide food for various events. Richard Rheaume, director of catering at CookStudio, said the firm recently did a study of its success with the portal and estimates that 30 per cent of the portal’s members have become steady clients.

“We’re in the downtown-ish side of Vancouver. It’s one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Canada,” he said. The firm recruits in part through help from case workers, employment insurance agencies and school boards. “As far as impact on employment goes, the more clients we get, the more dollars go back into our programs to train and hire more graduates.”

Local Vancouver companies such as Salesworks provided an in-kind contribution that went towards the design of the infrastructure and back end, while a Web firm called Communicopia built the interface. All the sites, including the Toronto one, will be hosted on the same SQL database. Other sites include Social Purchasing Portals in Winnipeg, Surrey and Calgary. In each case, LePage said the idea is to partner with local community organizations such as ITAC Ontario who will meet locally-defined needs. Mills Basics and Corporate Express are among other suppliers listed in the database. 

“Their agreement is they host the jobs with us, we collect the resumes and (clients) just use an alternative hiring pool,” LePage said. “Even when times get tough, people still need paper clips. We’re not depending upon the market, but we’re depending on the basic operating expenses.”

ITAC Ontario’s Toronto Social Purchasing Portal Supplier Trade Show will be held from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at the Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John St. in Toronto.

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