Victoria employment program is less about getting a job and more about recognizing who you are as a person.
Work as a metaphor for life
When Jon Sigurdson sees his future, it's filled with possibility.
This was not always the case.
Sigurdson, who is on disability and suffers from the long-term effects of Lyme disease contracted many years ago, is a participant in a promising program in Victoria operated by Our Place Society called Next Steps to Employment.
The 12-week program, run out of a building on Quadra Street, has been exploring non-traditional forms of employment since its inception in 2017.
Partnership agreements are in place with more than 20 local employers, each committed to recruiting and supporting vulnerable people within the program. However, Next Steps is not a generic one-stop employment centre. Rather, it is merely the first step for its members on the road to a better self.
Sigurdson, whose ultimate goals are to get back to teaching and researching in an academic environment, says he enjoys the program's multi-layered approach.
“I need help with a variety of things and Next Steps is a place where I can get that help,” he says. “I come here to participate in the group and make connections, but I also get one-on-one time dedicated to my personal needs.”
In addition to helping clients develop traditional employment skills such as time management, conflict resolution and preparing for job interviews, Next Steps also helps folks develop their own voice, improve self-esteem and discover hidden talents.
The greatest challenge facing Sigurdson and others attempting to re-enter the workforce after time away is establishing a good foundation. Health and home are paramount. And Next Steps acknowledges this with its multi-pronged approach. The basics of applying for jobs are important, but Next Steps focuses on helping participants in a variety of personal growth areas.
Jeremy Ball is the energetic and effusive Next Steps program manager. His warm smile greets participants in the brightly lit reception area at the employment centre in downtown Victoria.
“We are here for them as a connection to the wider world,” Ball says. “Our mission is to act as a conduit for participants. We offer more than just a link to possible employment. It's a place where the sky is the limit.”
At Next Steps, participants can engage in what Ball calls their native curiosity in a safe place where learning is an exchange of ideas and all possibilities can be imagined.
And just as clients grow into themselves, the program itself has evolved into its present state.
In the beginning, getting people working was the main goal. But some Next Steps clients who were offered jobs struggled when personal health and housing issues came up. The program has since become more well-rounded.
While everyone gains encouragement in the basics of job searching like writing and interview skills, the program guides each person’s individual trajectory, which could include volunteering in the community or moving on to more formal training. (Next Steps offers certification in several industries, including WHIMIS, Food Safe, Serving It Right, occupational first aid and more).
In short, participantsare counselled to work on themselves while preparing to find work. And all of this is much more appealing to potential employers, Ball notes.
Above: Next Steps to Employment manager Jeremy Ball says the program is a place where 'the sky is the limit' for clients working on self- improvement.
One of the most interesting aspects of this approach, he says, is that participants may not come away from the program
with an actual job. Instead, they learn that “work” is not just about punching the clock.
“It’s less about getting a job and more about recognizing who you are as a person and getting yourself on the road to a better place overall,” Ball says. “Employment often comes at the end of a lot of hard work and this can be far more satisfying.”
So far, participants are making important connections. Several are contributing as volunteers in the community. And many have found much-needed employment.
Sigurdson has forged important relationships through the centre and now has many more options moving forward. His struggles with health and housing continue, but through Next Steps he has made a lot of progress towards his goals.
“The system is frustrating, but I am learning a lot about myself through Next Steps and how to best navigate my way through this maze called life,” he says.
For more information about the Next Steps Employment program, visit ourplacesociety.com