Workshop taught money, social skills

The jobs are near minimum wage, but the opportunities are priceless.

That was the message from youth advocates and Jane-Finch area teens, who recently graduated from a provincial job-placement program designed to give youth in Toronto’s high-risk neighbourhoods something to write under the “experience” heading of their resumés.


Akim Burke, 15, who worked at Zellers this summer, has parlayed his placement into an after-school job there this fall.

“This program gives us a chance to show we can work like adults,” he said at the celebration of the Summer Jobs for Youth Program last week.

Before he even began working, the program workshops, organized by Tropicana Community Services, showed him how to polish his resumé, how to dress for a job interview, and how to save his money, the Westview Centennial Secondary School student said.

The 127 teens gathered at the Jamaican Canadian Association were among 800 in Toronto who got full-time jobs paying $8/hour through the $2.6 million program. It is being expanded to place 1,650 Ontario teens in each of the next two years at a cost of $5.3 million annually.

Students’ salaries are paid by the government. Summer job placements range from office and retail work to camp counselling, video production and tutoring.

“These communities and youth don’t typically get the nod when they go knocking on doors,” said Minister of Children and Youth Services Mary Anne Chambers. “This gives them an opportunity for a structured environment where they can learn what it takes to get and hold a job.”

Chambers said the response from the 230 participating employers has been positive, with many indicating they will take part again in the future.

Earlier this year, the Toronto Board of Trade met with less success when it put out a call for its Youth ONE (Opportunity, Neighbourhoods and Employment) campaign. It was an attempt to place 1,000 “at-risk” youth, but only 30 employers hired about 100 students.

The board, however, is relaunching the program this fall because job placements are critical for youth in struggling neighbourhoods, said spokesman Glen Stone.

The response may have been disappointing because employers misunderstood the term “at risk,” thinking they were being asked to hire teens with criminal backgrounds, Stone said.

“These aren’t bad kids, they’re kids who have had bad luck,” he said.