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Lighting a Candle

April 1, 1986 -

It is not easy to get a job, especially if you are young and inexperienced. Youth unemployment is high, numbering about 700,000 people aged 16-25 in Canada. Many young people are in the "catch 22" position of not having the experience employers are looking for and not being able to get experience unless they have a job. Any project that helps young people land their first job or obtains for young entrepreneurs that initial loan provides a vitally needed service today.

The chief executive officers of numerous Canadian companies have made up their mind to do something to help the unemployed and the hard-to-employ youth. For example, Roy Lockyer, president of Canada Dry Ltd., started "Operation Pride" in North York, a program to provide job training, life skills and wages for unemployed school dropouts leaving the care of the Children's Aid Society. One beneficiary of this project is Rick Kulchyski, 19, who wanted to become an auto body mechanic but had no skills, no driver's license and only dead-end jobs. Operation Pride provided training to help him land a job as an auto body apprentice. Of Operation Pride, Kulchyski said, "It's given me life skills, driving skills...job skills, first aid....The life skills? How to get to work on time."

Dozens of companies have collaborated in the Operation Pride project. For example, Canada Dry supplied the office, Ford supplied a car and a truck, and others provided uniforms, printing and advertising services. Operation Pride is run as a business by a board of directors supported by teams of executives from various companies, and the board hopes to help other companies establish similar programs across Canada.

CN Rail's chairman, Maurice Leclair, is an enthusiastic backer of such self-help schemes, which explains CN's participation in a similar program. CN hires about 120 young people a year on a maximum 3-year contract in order to give them work experience and provide them with marketable skills. Linda Fegan, a 22-year-old college graduate in television broadcasting, was unable to get a job because of lack of experience. CN put her to work in its public affairs department and even paid for night courses to broaden her skills. "It's a fabulous program," she said.

The Royal Bank of Canada's Youth Venture Capital program provides loans to young people wanting to start their own business. A Venture loan of $5,000 provided two engineering graduates of the University of Waterloo with enough cash flow to get their high tech business off the ground and to expand from their basement to larger industrial facilities. A Venture loan enabled University of Western Ontario graduate Ann Sutherland to open a modelling agency and school, which now employs three full-time and eight part-time people.

Mr. Leclair summed up the motivation behind these and similar programs: "It is incumbent upon leaders of industry to make an investment in Canada's future by helping young people to break out of the trap of no experience, no job" (Toronto Star, March 24, 1986).