New Circles Community Services

“Foundations in Retail and Customer Service Skills”

2016 2021

The Foundation provided two grants to New Circles to develop a program to support newcomer women with barriers to employment.

New Circles developed and delivered a certified employment training program in retail skills and customer service. Graduates received a Retail Associate certificate from the Retail Council of Canada, gained hands-on experience and were support in their job search through their Employment Ontario partner.

Overtime, they partnered with Centennial College to incorporate their curriculum into the program, so that participants receive college accreditation in addition to their certification from Retail Council of Canada. As well, they added the use of the Employability Skills Assessment Tool (ESAT) at specific points of the program, and found this a valuable way to measure participant confidence and learning progression.

To increase soft skills development, the organization partnered with the Department of Imaginary Affairs to incorporate the “Stories of Us” program. Employment training programs for newcomers represent an ideal environment in which to incorporate storytelling as a tool and a practice. Among other impacts, embedding storytelling into an employment training curriculum can support confidence-building, a key challenge for newcomers who often face multiple barriers to gainful employment in their new country. In many ways, an interview requires an applicant to tell their story in a compelling way while integrating their past, present, and future. The curriculum aims to give newcomers the tools and the vocabulary to start unpacking and sharing that story.

In the first grant, two cohorts went through the program and in the second grant, four cohorts participated. The pandemic forced the organization to adapt its expectations as the pandemic put increased strain on participants many of whom were dealing with additional family responsibilities.

Through continuous discovery of and research about training programs on offer to this highly vulnerable sector, and their ongoing work with community partners, they have come to understand how RCSS is one of the stronger programs available in their particular community for their target participants. As well, continuous third-party evaluation during and post-cohort has informed program improvement and refinement so that participants are ready to seek employment in the retail and customer service sectors.

A couple key insights from this work: 

  • The retail sector is changing in the 21st century, and even more rapidly so since the start of the pandemic. With so much consumer action now taking place online, it is important that we continue to refine the program to ensure relevance in today’s marketplace and workforce, and consider adding other components to reflect those changes. Additionally, there are numerous ways to provide customer service that don’t take place in a retail setting – what further angles could be developed to open up preparation for customer service in non-retail settings?
  • Lack of access to childcare continues to be a barrier for program participation or completion. We are working towards making resources available on-demand so that training can be provided at a time that works for our participants, whose family responsibilities have been exacerbated during lock downs.


About New Circles

New Circles Community Services is a not-for-profit, grass-roots agency that builds strong and caring communities by providing basic necessities to those living in poverty. We provide much needed clothingemployment skills training, and settlement support to individuals living on a low-income (with a focus on residents of Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park, Victoria Village, Taylor-Massey, Kennedy Park and Oakridge) across the city.