In April 2007, The Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), through a partnership with the Participation House Durham Region, launched the Youth the Future (YTF) program in Durham Region. Operating in Oshawa, YTF received funding through Service Canada’s Skills Link to provide employment supports for youth facing barriers to employment. In 2013, CCRW expanded its services in Durham Region with the launching of the Ontario Workplace Inclusion Program and together with the YTF program, CCRW established a stronger presence in the local community that continues to this day.
Throughout the years, YTF has successfully delivered the program resources to youth utilizing a variety of innovations to ensure successful program delivery. The quality of the program depends on the atmosphere within the training room. A lot of this was influenced early by “setting expectations” when recruiting through external referral agencies, interviewing potential participants, and setting goals and parameters during the first week of the project. YTF has always endeavored to establish a “work environment” as opposed to a school classroom. Participants are expected to be at “work” Monday – Friday at scheduled times, have numerous activities and tasks to complete – and for their effort they receive a stipend – sometimes a strong motivating factor!
Several progressive changes have been made to the Youth the Future Durham Region’s curriculum over the years. Changes were prompted by the fluctuating high functioning level of participants as well as drastically changing labour market demands in the Durham area. An example of these changes includes the usage of technology during the facilitation of the YTF curriculum. As workplaces continue to advance and incorporate more and more technology in the day-to-day functioning, it was decided that YTF participants would need to add stronger computer abilities to their skill set in order to be successful and confident when entering employment.
With the amendment of program materials, the delivery of the curriculum also had to be taken into account. One of the largest factors to participant success is the manner in which information is presented. In a diverse YTF group, participants all learn in different ways. For example, there is often a large mixture of visual, auditory, and physical learners (hands-on) who require information to be presented in many ways before they fully can comprehend. In the past, many of the materials were presented as handouts and discussion followed by a written questions and answer period. Over the years, to allow for the diverse learning styles in the group, the program often instructs the same material in several different methods on different occasions. For example, when discussing interviews, facilitation may begin with “brainstorming” that encourages participants to learn through group discussion and shared experiences. This is followed by a PowerPoint presentation that includes graphics, charts and even sound. Visual learners (and those who may be hearing impaired) enjoy this method of presenting, and those who are auditory learners get to hear the ‘lecture’ portion for a second time. Role play (virtual or with their peers) satisfies the last group of learners as it gives them an opportunity to physically practice the skill.
As the market conditions in Durham Region have changed over the years, so has the content of the curriculum. For example, when manufacturing jobs in the area declined severely in 2008 with the downsizing of the General Motors plant, the focus of participants had to be taken off of high paying, low skilled warehouse and labouring jobs and placed on growing industries within the area. The curriculum took a sharper focus on telephone, email and customer-employee communication skills in order to encourage participants to consider increasing opportunities in telemarketing and sales.
As the functioning level of participants increased and the local labour market changed, it also coincided with increasingly complex and ambitious job goals that required more education and certifications than past groups. In order to assist participants in reaching their goals, and meeting the raising standards of the job market, the program expanded and offered a variety of third-party certification training that is recognized across the province. Examples include: Emergency First Aid and CPR, Safe Food Handlers, WHMIS, Accessibility Training, and Smart Serve.
Through project outreach, the Youth the Future has also enjoyed establishing and maintaining strong community connections. Early groups benefited from a community service component by presenting the Wendy Blair book to school children and their teachers. Not only did the participants do the presentations but they also completed all the lead up work including contacting local schools in the area. Communicating with the contacts to make arrangements regarding the presentation and doing any follow up correspondence if required.
The Wendy Blair presentation was removed from the curriculum and replaced by a short-term job shadow opportunity. Participants were now able to witness firsthand the professional work environment, employability and occupational skills in practice, the value of professional training, and potential career options. In addition, offering this type of specialized job training during the program provided participants with work experience that generated transferrable skills that could be listed on a resume.
In 2014, the delivery of the program evolved again by offering a 15 week work experience placement with local employers to further enhance employability skills. Employment interests are identified with the participants early in the project to ensure employment placements are in-line with individual job goals and local labour market information specific to the Durham area. While completing their work experience, participants and employers are supported through employment maintenance activities designed to ensure potential accommodations are in place. Once a week, participants return to the training room for employability skills workshops to solidify lessons learned and to ensure upon completion of the program, they are ready to transition to employment.
The success (and renewal) of YTF programs is in direct correlation to participant progress and achievement. Individual success is measured through the staff’s observations, participant self-assessments, and employer feedback. Transformation is observed in job search abilities and increased employability as well as improved social skills and personal confidence. Specific observations include:
- Improved social skills and a willingness to network and interact with other individuals
- Enhanced computer and internet skills
- Heightened knowledge of community services and how to access relevant personal and employment resources
- Developed confidence and ease with the job search procedure
- Increased employability skills; including professional resumes, cover letters, and legitimate references
- More successful job search results
Through the delivery of an adaptable curriculum and increasing the skills, abilities, and confidence of the participants, the YTF has increased and supported employment opportunities for numerous youth with disabilities. The statistics that demonstrate a success outcome for the Durham YTF for the period 2007 – 2010 include:
- 110 participants with disabilities accepted
- 101 participants successfully completed (92%)
- 55 participants obtained employment
- 4 participants became self-employed
- 14 returned to school to advance education
- 28 participants referred to external case managers for additional supports