08/13/2012 03:12 EDT | Updated 10/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Ontario government, RIM, universities team up to help laid-off workers

WATERLOO, Ont. - The Ontario government is teaming up with Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) to help laid off workers in the city where the company, which is working through a restructuring that includes slashing jobs, is based.

Communitech, which lobbies on behalf of tech companies in the region, as well as the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, will also be involved in the plan to help laid off workers.

The troubled BlackBerry maker announced in June that it will be cutting 5,000 jobs worldwide and would not release its next generation of smartphone until next year. More than half of the company's 16,500 employees — about 9,000 — work in the Waterloo region.

The universities are adding spaces in entrepreneurship and business programs, to help workers develop skills to start their own businesses.

Communitech and Employment Ontario will help workers find new jobs in the sector in the region, sometimes referred to as "Silicon Valley North.''

The province will also create a centre where laid-off workers can look for new jobs, get employment counselling or go back to school.

The announcement comes ahead of a Sept. 6 provincial byelection in the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo.

The seat became vacant after Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Witmer resigned to become chairwoman of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. A win could help the minority Liberals gain a majority in the provincial legislature.

Rick Costanzo, RIM's executive vice-president of global sales, said the company approached the provincial government and local community about the transition process after it had details of the cost-cutting plan.

"We announced a plan to realize close to a billion dollars in terms of cost savings between now and the end of the fiscal year, and unfortunately, job eliminations are part and parcel of that."

He would not say how many employees have been laid off in the Waterloo-area, where the firm's global headquarters is located.

The Liberals have nominated lawyer Eric Davis to run in the provincial byelection.

The riding of Vaughan, north of Toronto, will also hold a byelection on the same day. That seat became vacant after veteran Liberal Greg Sorbara resigned last week.

The Liberals missed winning a third consecutive majority by one seat in last October's election, but could regain that majority by winning the two byelections.

RIM has been making cuts across its operations to help counter faltering sales of its smartphones, particularly in North America.

RIM has been working to turn around its operations after watching its market share erode as consumers switched to Apple's iPhone and other smartphones running Google's Android operating system.

The company's future success rides on the unveiling of its BlackBerry 10 operating system, which has suffered two major delays that have pushed its debut into early 2013.

Also on Monday, the company refused to comment on a published report that it was looking at selling its cloud-services assets, the latest in a series of rumoured deals the company is said to be perusing.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version gave an incorrect name for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.