When I look out of the windows from Our Place in Victoria BC, I see a veritable flock of large metallic cranes constructing new buildings in our downtown core. While part of me relishes the thought of more and much needed housing, another part of me wants to turn this economic boom into a positive for the most vulnerable citizens in our community.
It’s far too easy to dismiss people without jobs as being “lazy,” but that hasn’t been my experience. Instead, I see all the barriers that must be hurdled in order to secure employment in the first place. The people who I see on a daily basis at Our Place shouldn’t be lumped together as facing the same challenge. Some have been abused from birth and never stood a chance at school; others have anger issues stemming from trauma and mental health issues; some have suffered injury and/or brain damage; and others have been told all of their life that they are worthless.
We’re going to change this. The groundwork has been laid, and beginning this fall a unique Employment Program is being piloted at Our Place to address all of these hurdles – and I couldn’t be more excited.
This comprehensive approach, new to our community, is designed specifically for those who are facing multiple barriers to both training and employment, including the community members at Our Place who are often among the “hardest to employ.”
Where school may have failed many in our community, this program will take a non-traditional approach, using the five senses – taste, sight, touch, smell, and sound – to find the most effective way of reaching each individual. We consider this approach crucial in teaching individuals facing such barriers as marginalization, low self-esteem, and lack of academic preparation.
This is a collaborative employment program that will link hands and share resources with other agencies, local employers, and supporters for the empowerment of each and every individual. It will begin in the pre-employment stage with a focus on basic life skills such as building trust, ethical behavior, conflict management, time management and budgeting. When you haven’t had proper structure in your life before, how do you understand the value of showing up to work on time? And this is a two-way street. We need to earn the participants’ trust in order for them to see the value in the tools being provided.
After pre-employment, participants will move on to employability skills where the focus will be on team work, interview skills, résumés, and job application forms, plus job search strategies. Having a résumé is only of value if you know where to go next. We’ll teach that. At this point some participants may be ready to move forward with more formal training or might even have gained the confidence to explore further education.
The next step is one that I’m especially looking forward to. We will be working with local employers to come into the classroom and teach specific skills related to their field. Participants will be able to sign up for workshops in areas they have an interest in, and employers will be able to hone the skills of potential employees right from the start.
Best of all, Our Place’s support won’t end there. We want to ensure that people don’t just have a job for one day, but that they can have a career. To that end, we will work with and support each employer and employee to overcome any hurdles that may occur. (If, for example, an employee is having time-management issues or conflict with a co-worker, we will work with them to find a solution.)
The bottom line is, we want this to be a positive experience for everyone involved. Together, we will celebrate every milestone along the way, and we will be there as a partner in every success.
Yes, we plan to teach individuals to fish even if they’ve never dipped a toe in the ocean before.
— Don Evans, Executive Director, Our Place Society. Our Place Society is one of over 60 Community and Social Justice Ministries which are full ministries and expressions of The United Church of Canada.
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