2019 IW Winners

Executive of the Year - Thunder Bay

Madge Richardson

Madge Richardson

Those who know Madge Richardson consider her unflappable.

Whether it’s successfully leading projects, writing grant proposals, or wading through challenging government policy directives, the executive director of the North Superior Workforce Planning Board always carries herself with professionalism, ease and grace.

She is regarded by her nominators as a role model, a mentor and a tireless worker with a passion for bringing people and communities together for the betterment of northwestern Ontario.

Dealing with the unknown comes with the territory, said Richardson.

The Thunder Bay-based planning and transfer payment agency she heads up operates on a series of one-year contracts.

This past spring, with a new provincial government in place, and operating funds uncharacteristically late to arrive, Richardson was preparing to shutter the organization before a deadline call came in to extend program funding for another year.

“It really is quite the cycle. This year was pretty stressful.”

That kind of uncertainty might prompt others to leave for more stable employment.

But entering her eighth year on the job, Richardson feels she’s just hitting her stride.

Her organization answers to multiple groups of stakeholders at all orders of government, along with their respective employment and training bodies – such as YES Employment and Anishnabek Employment & Training (AETS), March of Dimes Canada and district social service boards – plus various economic development practitioners in the area and many more community partners.

“It’s a huge juggling act to meet and manage all of those expectations, depending on the decisions of government,” she said.

But for Richardson, the enjoyment comes from developing relationships, breaking down institutional silos, and getting groups of people to collaborate and improve the labour market for job seekers and employers.

“Working with all these groups, and to have that insight into all these different pieces of the puzzle, is really kind of exciting.”

Being adaptive and learning to fit in came naturally for the Saskatchewan-born Richardson, who moved to northwestern Ontario in the late 1970s.

Fresh out of college, a vacation to visit her sister in Schreiber – a small community on Lake Superior’s north shore – turned into a permanent stay when she landed a job in the township office.

Her administrative duties transitioned into workforce training and adjustment, and even involved a four-year stint as Schreiber’s first female mayor.

“I think careers are an evolution as you gain skills and change your perspective,” said Richardson.

Her ability to think strategically on a big picture, master the small details, and treat others with courtesy, warmth and respect has won her the respect and admiration of her colleagues.

She serves with a number of committees and organizations regarding immigration and skilled workforce development. Her leadership was recognized by the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise as one of its Top 20 in 20 award recipients in 2014.

Just as in dealing with individuals, Richardson observes each community in Northern Ontario has its own personality and perspective, but there’s also plenty of common ground to be found.

“We’re all mandated work within the same area, but it’s how we do it and who’s involved, and how we respond to challenges and opportunities that makes us unique. That’s where you learn and develop.

“Change is inevitable and I’d rather be involved in the change instead of just reacting to it.”