This is the latest in a series on RBC Future Launch called, “Youth at Work”. To read another focused on Quebec, please click here.
Young Canadians face many challenges: employment, learning skills, and finding a sense of purpose and well-being. With local and national job markets transforming rapidly, youth must navigate a constantly changing work world.
Ottawa is one of the best places in Canada for people ages 15 – 29 to work and live, according to RBC Future Launch’s latest Youthful Cities Urban Work study. Ottawa came in at #7 on the list of the best cities in Canada to work with the 4th highest youth employment rate of the cities studied. One reason is that Ottawa has innovative youth programs to help them gain new skills, grow their networks, and get work experience.
Here are three inspiring Ottawa organizations working to empower youth.
Image: Ottawa Mission, Chef Ric’s Food Service Program
1. The Ottawa Mission’s Food Service Training Program
The Ottawa Mission is one of the oldest service organizations in the region — and one of the most comprehensive. They provide a holistic slate of programs to help people experiencing poverty, homelessness, or other challenges. Chef Ric’s Food Service Training Program is one of the programs making a difference.
Started by Ric Allen Watson, a Red Seal chef who experienced homelessness in his youth, it provides four months of free, intensive commercial kitchen training and job skills for individuals who want to better their lives.
“Very high-end chefs are coming in and teaching practical classes to the students so they can learn at a very high level,” says Erin Helmer, the senior officer of corporate philanthropy and partnerships for the program.
“It’s got an amazing success rate. Over 90% of individuals in the program obtain full-time employment afterwards.” – Erin Helmer
“We’ve had individuals suffering from addictions and trauma enter this program and develop a stronger sense of self-worth that changed their outlook on their future. They’ve gone on to do amazing things,” says Helmer. “We’ve also had formerly incarcerated people who didn’t think anyone would give them a shot to participate in the program. We don’t judge people for what they’ve done in the past. We focus on creating a better future for that individual.”
One recent participant, Amir, stands out for Helmer. Amir joined the FTSP at 17 years old. After immigrating to Canada from Iran three years ago, he studied to complete his high school education and learn English. “When I came here, it was during COVID, and I couldn’t meet with friends,” said Amir. “But when I came to the Food Services Training Program, I met so many amazing people.” He learned job skills and food prep certification, which gave him a leg up on finding employment.
Image source: University of Ottawa
2. University of Ottawa: UOCompetencies Program
With uOttawa responsible for educating more than 45,000 students at any time, the school is vital to the region’s future. But many students struggle to apply what they learn in the classroom to the working world.
That’s where the UOCompetencies Program comes in. The program focuses on providing students with real-world skills.
“We did a study to find the key skills students need to succeed, and we came up with 11 competencies to learn over the course of their degrees,” says Gabriel Ramsay, the career curriculum designer for the school’s experiential learning programs. “We’ve developed core modules to introduce each competency to students and then empower them to develop their own goals around each competency.”
Image: uOttawa’s Core Competencies
“We’re not building employees, but whole people,” said Ramsay. “We want students to be confident, empowered, and ready for life after graduation — whether it’s the job market, family life, or anything else.”
Ramsay is already seeing the program make a difference in students’ lives. “One of the students helping me create the curriculum is in international development,” he says. “I ran into her today as she was coming out of an exam. She told me she nailed it because of the competencies she’s learned in the last year.”
Image source: Christie Lake Kids
3. Christie Lake Kids: Leaders in Training
Christie Lake Kids is one of Ottawa’s oldest and most respected charities. In 1922, a criminal court judge saw many kids from low-income families in his courtrooms. He decided to start the Christie Lake program to give youth in similar situations opportunities.
The Christie Lake Kids’ Leaders in Training program helps set up youth from low-income families to fulfill their educational and professional goals. The program pairs young leaders with a well-trained mentor who meets with them once a week to help prepare them for the future of work, support them in applying for scholarships, or help them figure out what kind of career they want to pursue.
In addition to mentorship, Christie Lake Kids offers three days a week of additional programming to support mental and physical health — including meditation programs, yoga classes, and cooking classes. Every night the program runs, participants cook and eat together, thus ensuring they get a healthy dinner three days a week.
“We even help kids apply for their first jobs,” explains Natalie Benson, the program’s director of fundraising and communications. “We help them build a resume, gain interview skills, and open up opportunities with our partners for seasonal jobs and jobs throughout the school year.”
Benson loves watching youth succeed as they go through the program. “I’ve been lucky to go to the Leaders in Training camp every spring and see these kids flourish and change,” she says. “Some of these kids have been with us for so long, I’ve seen them grow up before my eyes.”
Denim, one recent participant, reflected on her time in the program. “Christie Lake Kids Leaders in Training has a special place in my heart because it’s been a part of my life for the past five years,” she says. “The other Leaders in Training and volunteers have created a space that is safe enough to express myself and grow my skills as a leader.”
The future of Ottawa’s youth
RBC is proud to partner with these innovative programs to help local youth get the career opportunities, skills, and support they need to become the next generation of local leaders.
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