Zennon Martin says the Employ program helped him learn a good work ethic and led to a job he enjoys at SportChek.

Zennon Martin says the Employ program helped him learn a good work ethic and led to a job he enjoys at SportChek.

Program helps break down barriers

Employ prepares youth for the workplace

When young people find barriers to employment for their first job or at any time during the beginning of their work lives, it’s hard not to be discouraged.

Sometimes they know what the barrier is — lack of Grade 12, homelessness or risk of becoming homeless, lack of family support, substance abuse or disability. Other times, they are not sure why they can’t get or keep a job. The reasons can range from not knowing how to present their skills in the best way, not fully understanding the responsibilities of employment and the importance of their own decisions and attitude.

Dave Rossi has been the coordinator of the Employ program (formerly known as Trades Work and Esteem) for eight years. He has seen more than 300 youth ages 16 to 30 go through the program, which includes six weeks of classroom instruction and 192 hours of work experience, and on to employment or further education.

“It’s really rewarding when they come back and tell me what they’re doing. Some are doing apprenticeships, some went to university and other training, they’re doing all sorts of jobs. They’ll send grad pictures, come in to show me their first pay cheques or their babies or take me out for coffee,” he said. “One young woman came back after four years and said, ‘you know, that class you taught me, it’s totally changed my life.’ But they help themselves. I just provide them with the tools, it’s up to them how they use them.”

Rossi said he has had youth in the program who are brilliant but who are not in school and not using their abilities. For some, it is a matter of lack of mentoring –– no one has told them what they need to know –– and intellectual maturity. He noted that few parents of the younger participants in the program seem to take an interest in what their children are learning and their goals.

“The youth have to be at a point where they realize that what they are doing is not working and they have to do things differently if they want to change their circumstances. I admire them for being ready to make the change and work for it. They should be open minded and willing to learn before they come into the program.”

He teaches according to the critical thinking model which challenges the youth to think for themselves and covers learning how to deal with ambiguity, how to make well-reasoned inferences, make their own decisions based on evidence and facts they have gathered for themselves and how to argue effectively and reasonably. They also learn to think about their own beliefs, why they believe what they do and if it might make their lives better if they think through their belief systems.

“Sometimes, I see the kids get it in class and it changes them. If they don’t get it in class, they are learning and it changes each one of them in some way. They can learn to apply critical thinking in all areas of their lives. This is all about the kids. They keep it real and we all learn,” said Rossi.

Samantha Helf was in the program three years as a single mother looking for work.

“I really enjoyed being in the program. The critical thinking gives you better insight and better ways to communicate with people,” she said.

She did her work experience putting in security systems with Action Electronics and now works full time in the office at Vernon Credit Bureau.

“It’s one of the best jobs I ever had. The program helped me to be a better worker, in being patient and open-minded. The people there were really understanding. I have a lot to thank them for. I would say to any young person who is having a hard time finding work that being in the program would be one of the best things for them. School doesn’t give you everything you need, this helps you use your head a little more.”

Zennon Martin was in the Employ program two years ago when he was 16, had left school and was spending a lot of time playing video games, and knew he needed a stepping stone to get to work.

“The program really appealed to me because it would get me some work experience even though I didn’t have any idea at the time what I wanted to do. I was pretty quiet and when they put me in retail, I opened up and learned a lot of interpersonal skills,” said Martin, who is now a sales associate in footwear at SportChek in Vernon, where he did his job experience and was then offered a job.

He and his fiancée, Zoë Marshall, are the proud parents of a new daughter, Zaela Martin, born March 27.

“What they teach you in the program is life changing. It’s really inspiring. I would recommend this to anyone.”

Donovan Warnes, the assistant manager at SportChek said the store has had several Employ participants and has recently hired another participant who did work experience there.

“They do great work. It helps the young people and it helps us because the wages are paid for the job placement and we get a lot done. When Zennon first came here he was shy but he has a great work ethic and product knowledge and he does an amazing job. We will keep involved with the program,” he said.

Rossi would like to thank the businesses who provide the work experience opportunities (wages are provided for the training) and the individual business people who come to speak to the classes for helping make the program a success.

Employ is a youth employment program for people ages 16 to 30 who have any kind of barrier to finding employment. Participants are paid while they are in the program and may receive assistance with getting the clothing or equipment they need for work.

Youth who want to take part in the program can make an appointment with the Connections Career Centre at 250-545-5705 or go into the centre in the Community Futures Building at 3105-33rd St., Vernon.