YWCA Hamilton’s STEP Program helps young people smash barriers to employment

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Finding a job can be difficult under the best of circumstances – but when you’re a young person facing barriers to employment, it can seem insurmountable.

But a unique program at YWCA Hamilton helps young people who have had difficulties getting a job tackle the obstacles they face on the road to meaningful work.

Our Strategic Training and Employment (STEP) program is a no-cost program that’s open to any young woman or non-binary youth aged 15 to 30 years old. It helps participants gain valuable skills in industries they’re interested in, and offers on-the-job, paid training.

Deborah Schwientek, YWCA Hamilton’s manager of Employment and Training, says past participants come from various backgrounds. Some are just finishing their education and aren’t clear about their next steps. Others have been single parents or are newcomers to Canada. Some past clients have faced challenges such as addiction, homelessness, or mental health issues.

“You just have to read the statistics. We know that youth are underemployed and unemployed,” said Deborah. “They need advocates who can be out there in the community helping to break down some of the barriers to make sure they retain employment.”

Each participant receives up to six weeks of one-on-one job preparation and support to help them prepare to enter the workforce. This could mean anything from First Aid and CPR training, Health and Safety courses, or Smart Serve and Safe Food Handling certification. As needed, participants can also receive life skills training, including personal hygiene and healthy sleep guidance, as well as resume and interview prep.

The program also includes up to 14 weeks of paid job placement, funded by Employment and Skills Development Canada. Past STEP participants have worked in doctors’ offices, in retail environments like the Bulk Barn or Home Depot, at Fluke Transportation Group, and in childcare. YWCA Hamilton staff work to connect participants with employers in the fields they’re interested in.

“The sky’s the limit,” she said.

The program can also help with the unexpected costs associated with starting a new job. Youth in the STEP program can receive funding for police clearances, vulnerable sector checks, or uniform purchases. The program can also accommodate women with young children by providing funding for childcare costs, and if necessary, and provide participants with grocery gift cards until they receive their first paycheque.

If you’re interested in participating in the STEP program, or if you’re an employer who would like to get involved, contact Deborah at 905-719-1474 or email dschwientek@ywcahamilton.org.

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