Learning the Right Attitude
June 1, 1997 -
Job security for many is a thing of the past. And the doomsayers out there, who predict that there won't be any jobs, don't make matters any better. Some predict that the workforce will be divided between well-paid, secure knowledge workers and low-paid service workers, a new class conflict in the making.
Dire predictions about the end of work have certainly helped to stoke the ideological fires of those who look at the world through class-conflict lenses. In fact, it's become a great time to dust off all the old rhetoric, prepare the pickets, and go marching in the streets, protesting the "corporate agenda" and other perceived evils.
But protests and pickets only look good on the news. They do nothing to help those affected by the wrenching changes taking place in the workplace. Now, if only that energy were harnessed in positive ways! Like helping to prepare people for the requirements of the new workplace.
One place is doing just that. It's called the Centre for Advancement in Work and Living (CAWL), a job-training facility in Toronto which has been remarkably successful in helping less employable people find work. It offers a range of support services, including career counselling, job placement, teaching specific skills, preparing trainees for office and computer work, upgrading literacy, developing needed work habits, and applying for and keeping a job.
Participants can also follow a basic industrial type program to learn the use of hand and power tools or a specific trade, such as automotive body repair. Those who take the course are expected to treat it like a regular job. They must punch a time clock and be able to function as part of a team. If someone misses too many sessions, the instructor tells them that frequent absences in the business world would get them fired. If they don't improve, they're dropped. The program is only for those who truly want to work.
CAWL's hands-on, practical approach has proven to be very effective. From 80-100 people a year go through its automotive trade skills program for eight to ten weeks. Almost 90 per cent of its graduates have been successful in getting jobs. Ten weeks is not long enough to turn out full-fledged tradesmen, but participants will have acquired the basic skills needed for entry level jobs in the industry.
Barry Cleland, one of the instructors, explains that "it's not the skills that get them jobs, it's the attitude they learn." Or, as another one of the Centre's trainers says: "None of the people who come here are ready to get a job and keep it. When they leave, well, that's another story."
Academic subjects are also part of the curriculum and trainees must spend four hours every week studying reading, writing, and math. What makes this project all the more remarkable is that many of the trainees have to struggle against various disadvantages. Some are recent immigrants who need language training; others need help in developing living and working skills. Some struggle with lack of confidence; others cope with physical disabilities.
More than 1,200 people will go through CAWL during the current year. Funding for the Centre comes from the federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government as well as corporations, foundations, and individuals. Its current $250,000 annual budget, however, is in some difficulty because of government cutbacks.
By all appearances, the program developed by CAWL has more than proven its worth and deserves to be copied in many other places. Consider these "testimonies" from two of the Centre's graduates:
Fred: "I wanted to learn about computers but was confused and uncertain of my ability. At CAWL, reassuring counsellors supported my career choice. The friendly instructors helped me to develop the skills that I needed. CAWL also arranged a variety of work trials which eventually led to a permanent job that is very rewarding."
Ahmed: "When I first came to Canada, it was difficult finding work without a specific skill or trade. I began to lose confidence and hope. CAWL's training program put me on track. I learned basic industrial skills and how to present myself to potential employers. My current job at an auto-body shop is great. In the future I hope to have my own repair business."
This is an extremely worthwhile effort at helping newcomers to Canada and others not well prepared for the workplace to overcome barriers to employment. Its wide range of counselling and support programs are exactly what many people need to obtain the necessary confidence and learn basic work skills. But a key ingredient to the Centre's success is its extensive connections with a number of companies willing to assist by employing or training participants. There's no substitute for real, hands-on learning.
Programs such as those developed by the CAWL underscore again that rather than trying to remake society, good things can happen on a very small scale. Now, if only the work done at the Centre were duplicated in every community, a whole new trend would be set in motion. It might not grab the headlines, but it sure is a positive way to help those in need.