Photo: “Only in Kitchener-Waterloo would you have such an innovative response to such a challenging time and you have all really stepped up to meet the challenge,” said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Blue Monday is considered one of the most depressing days of the year, but this morning was a time for celebration.

The January day typically associated with unpaid bills and cold, dark days was actually upbeat, as local leaders and members of the community joined Communitech’s Tech Jobs Connex team in officially opening their new location.

The new space, in the Tannery building on the corner of Charles and Francis Streets in Kitchener, is instrumental in helping the team to continue and expand the program, which is funded by the Ontario government to retain talent leaving BlackBerry as the company continues its restructuring.

“Only in Kitchener-Waterloo would you have such an innovative response to such a challenging time, and you have all really stepped up to meet the challenge,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

One of those challenges is tailoring a program, which is typically seen in manufacturing layoffs, to the needs of tech workers.

“These are challenging times for your community, families in this region have suffered, workers have had to restart their careers and the programs we are talking about here have really helped,” he said.

The program’s objective is to retain BlackBerry talent within Waterloo Region first, then Ontario, followed by Canada. As of December, the Tech Jobs Connex team had helped 1,046 former employees find jobs.

“I think it’s all about hope and it’s about people being able to see that there is a future here in Waterloo Region and that there are jobs available,” said John Milloy, Minister of Ontario Government Services. “And that helps the community as a whole because we want to keep these people here and we want to keep this talent here.”

The move brings the program, launched in Waterloo last year, to downtown Kitchener next to the Communitech Hub, which offers more than typical employment assistance. It gives those who have been out of the game a look at what’s going on in the ecosystem.

“I think it’s significant that it’s here with Communitech, because this is where the momentum is at the present time in terms of not only technology jobs, but all the spinoffs that come with that,” said Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr. He added, “Having it here, people who are looking for a change in jobs or career can not only get the practical assistance but they get involved with the energy level that happens here.”

In spite of difficulties and challenges the region has faced in recent years, with major layoffs at one of its biggest employers, Kitchener-Waterloo is setting the example for the rest of the province on how to overcome them, according to Minister Duguid.

“This community is a real example to communities right across Ontario that are hurting when these job losses take place. You have shown what you need to do to respond and that is just to dust yourselves off, get right back into the game and do everything you can to take advantage of the incredible talent that you have developed here,” he said.

“The future remains bright here in Kitchener-Waterloo; the future remains bright across the province of Ontario.”