Ontario Association of Youth Employment Centres/First Work

“Cross Canada Dialogues” Grant


First Work, a not-for profit organization that supports and advocates for a sustainable youth employment delivery network in Ontario, received funding from The Counselling Foundation of Canada in 2009 for its Cross Canada Dialogues on Youth Career Development in Hard Times Project. This three-year initiative was instituted to bring together youth serving organizations from all regions and employment counselling sectors in Canada to discuss how best to serve the career development and employment needs of the nation’s youth during an economic downturn.

Part of the Cross Canada Dialogues project included hosting a national contest for youth counselling organizations to share stories of their most innovative and successful programs addressing youth unemployment in difficult economic times. First Work launched this competition in early 2011 and received entries from across Canada. Seven submissions were awarded certificates at the Futures Youth Employment Counselling Conference in October, 2011.

Here are the contest winners including a description of the innovative aspects of their programs:

Grand Prize Winner: Online Hiring Fair – Calgary Youth Employment Centre, Alberta.  www.nextsteps.org

The Online Hiring Fair is an innovative online job fair designed to meet the demands of youth during the economic downturn. By shifting to an online fair, more employers became involved, more jobs were available, more youth connected with employers and, most importantly, more youth found jobs – all during a time of employment shortages!

Innovation Aspects:

  • Steps are taken to ensure that benefits of a traditional hiring fair are not lost by creating a blog where youth, employers, and employment counselors can interact in various ways;
  • Articles are posted on the blog for a week leading up to the hiring fair. Topics include how to market your skills online, tips from employers, how to leave a voicemail message, and how to write a cover letter. This information gives youth the chance to prepare themselves to apply for jobs during the hiring fair;
  • Companies are required to fill out a profile and answer five Frequently Asked Questions in order to provide a virtual booth feel;
  • The names of companies participating in the fair are posted on the centre’s website so that youth can find out about them before attending the online fair.

Innovation Winner: Value of Work, Value of Money Program – Community Centre Alliance, St. John’s, Newfoundland. www.ccanl.ca

The Value of Work, Value of Money Program provides training on money matters as many youth have a limited understanding of financial issues.

Innovation Aspects:

  • The youth in this program get the opportunity to experience work, volunteerism, and receive training on the importance of and ways of managing their money and staying in school for future success;
  • The program stresses budgeting and banking using various motivational techniques. Each participant receives a $400 tuition voucher upon completing the program which can later be used for their post-secondary education;
  • The program also includes decision-making activities and ways of giving back to the community.

Innovation Winner: Around the Block Youth Program – P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities. www.peicod.pe.ca

The Around the Block Youth Program is an extensive training initiative that encourages participants to develop employability skills through life skills training and learning theatre techniques. Life skills training is a very important and effective component of the program as it helps youth acquire the basic skills that are crucial for career success.

Innovation Aspects:

  • Team building, problem solving and consensus building are learned through theatre activities such as acting, vocal coaching, puppetry, song writing and creative poetry;
  • Raises youth self-esteem by helping participants come to terms with their respective issues (such as dealing with addiction or conflict resolution needs);
  • Increases youth’s aptitude for self expression through literacy, spoken word, stage movement, and music;
  • The puppeteering component helps the participants develop their sense of self confidence as they learn to use the puppets and be comfortable in front of an audience.


Innovation Winner: Restoring the Sacred Program – Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. www.kanikanichihk.ca

Restoring the Sacred Program is a youth-centered, culturally-based, peer mentorship initiative for aboriginal youth (14 – 21 years old) who are relocating to Winnipeg to continue their education. Mentees are paired with a mentor who will support them during their transition to living in Winnipeg.

Innovation Aspects:

  • A capacity building approach allows participants to strengthen their identity, increase resiliency, and develop skills and leadership qualities;
  • After-school programming develops aboriginal youth’s leadership and mentorship capacity through culturally-based and comprehensive peer mentor training and support;
  • Mentors are motivated aboriginal youth (16+ years old) who are committed to being positive and healthy role models. Mentors are given the opportunity to provide mentorship and leadership training to a transitioning youth;
  • Both Mentors and Mentees participate in a wide range of learning, social, recreational and cultural activities that are designed to enhance confidence, discipline, assertiveness, independence and identity.

Innovation Winner: Born to Be Program – Calgary Youth Employment Centre, Alberta. www.nextsteps.org

The Born to Be Program is an aboriginal youth program that targets at-risk youth by assisting them with employment, school, training, and career development. The program assists youth to develop the knowledge, skills, and resilience that prepare them for meaningful employment, school, training, and careers.

Innovation Aspects:

  • A commitment coaching approach offers practical, daily assistance to participants and helps them address the social-emotional issues that may prevent them from completing the program;
  • The program focuses on culturally-sensitive placement techniques which serve each participant’s individual needs.

Honorary Mention: The Work Room – Quispamsis, New Brunswick. www.careersthatwork.ca

The Work Room is a state-of-the-art career resources centre open to students as well as the general public. The program offers free services like resume writing, internet job search and career planning through an extensive resource library.

Innovation Aspects:

  • This program uses the PACE Model which assists the students, parents, and general public in developing and maintaining a career plan;
  • Different versions of the PACE program are used for each specific target audience;
  • Parent workshops provide caregivers with the resources, tools and strategies they need to support the career goals of the children they are caring for;
  • The program includes Personality Dimensions workshops for identifying interests and preferences to assist with career research.

Honorary Mention: Skills Link – Froude Avenue Community Centre, St. John’s, Newfoundland. www.froude.ca

The Skills Link program focuses on serving at-risk youth in finding meaningful employment. The initiative combines life skills training and work placements based on the youth’s experience and interests.

Innovation Aspects:

  • Introduction to life activities using creative and innovative workshops such as puzzles and hiking rather than approaching it in a traditional way through reading and writing;
  • Personalized facilitation techniques reflecting each group’s needs;
  • Zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol use, crime free and being on time. The youth make respectful commitments to try their best to complete the program successfully.

Congratulations to all the winners and those who received honorary mention! For more information about First Work and its services, please visit www.firstwork.org/wp.