By Glenn Fraser
When 43-year-old John Vallentin read a job ad in the Globe and Mail from his spot on a sandy Prince Edward Island beach, he never thought he would be starting a province-wide program to help unemployed youths find work.
The program was the Liberal overnment’s attempt to streamline six Youth Employment Counselling Centres into Drie provincially funded program called Futures. Today Futures is sponsored by 23 Ontario Community Colleges under the Ministry of Skills Development program.
Vallentin’s past experience working with terminally-ill cancer patients on P.E.I, and a lengthy resume filled with work and education credentials landed him the job. In 1984 he left Charlottetown and moved to Scarborough. The towering bearded native of Holland was put in charge of finding a location, setting up a program and hiring a staff.
From the carpeted second-floor office of 2472 Eglinton Avenue East, Vallentin designed
program to help up to 60 people from age 16 to 24 (up to age 29 if physically or mentally handicapped) prepare for a job. His eight-member staff and four counsellors teach young men and women the necessary skills to getand keep a job in today’s market.
“We teach kids to market themselves,” VaUentin said.
Young people with different economical, social and cultural backgrounds from Scarborough, Toronto, North York and Etobicoke attend the daily programs. The programs are taught in two phases: the Pre-Employment Preparation (PEP) program and the work placement program.
The PEP phase teaches academics — math and English — where individuals can learn upgrading or earn credits toward their high school diploma. Also taught are job-search skills which encourage clients to contact employers, arrange interviews and try short-term job placements. Participants learn how to fill out applications, write resumes and gain a basic understanding of human rights. They earn $125 a week for attending classes.
Those who are interested in learning trade skills are referred to Future’s Apprenticeship Branch for registration.
Another area of the PEP program is a group-based learning experience called Life Skills, which VaUentin calls the “backbone” of the program. It consists of a two-hour period, five days a week, where students, teachers and counsellors deal with everyday problems facingthem at home and on the job. Male and female instructors provide individual counselling on a one-to-one basis.
VaUentin said some people come to the program as part of their probation or parole and haven’t been able to find a job because of incarceration or lack of experience. He said the PEP program teaches them to be responsible tax-paying citizens and helps them “get out of the ditch and into a job.”
After completing the pre-employment stage, people move on to the work placement phase. Individuals are matched with available employers in the Scarborough area. These employers provide “intake assessments” of the employees’ performance, including work habits, attendance, punctuality and attitude. While on placement, participants keep in constant contact with the Futures staff.
The employees are paid $4.55 per hour by the program for up to 44 hours a week for a max¬imum of 16 weeks. Short-term or ‘ ‘mini” placements are also helpful, said VaUentin, to see ho$ employees fit into certain jobs.
It’s 10:45 a.m. Monday: Michael Simons, a 27-year-old instructor at the centre, is walking around a classroom of 9 to 10 students helping them individually with job-search and academic skills.
The atmosphere is casual and friendly. The tall, jovial Simons has been an instructor with Futures for two years. His eight years’ experience has included working for the Toronto Association for the Mentally Retarded and helping disabled people in Boston.’
Simons said the Futures program gives people responsibility and “gives them a lot of opportunity they wouldn’t normally have.” The program is geared to the individual as much as possible and, he said, the participants work at their own pace without having to compare their work to others.
An older, gray-haired man teaches math on a blackboard to three interested youths. A number of others bury their thoughts in textbooks. Anthony Senior, a clean-cut black teen with a striped shirt, agrees with Simons.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here that you can’t get out there,” he said. “Nobody’s twisting your arm to come here, it’s up to you.”
Senior said his school guidance teacher told him the program could give him credits and work experience. In the two months that he’s been here, Senior said, the upgrading has helped him a lot. He’s also been able to try short-term placements in food preparation at two local restaurants.
In a brightly lit room on the third floor, 20 to 25 people surround the perimeter of long, wide tables placed in a large square. This is a job-searchseminar and a casual conversa tion’s going on between the par ticipants and the counsellors.
“I was forced to come here,” said 21-year-old Rose-Ann Jacobs. “But now I enjoy it.”
Jacobs, who has been in the program for 10 weeks, said “I’m in no hurry to get out of here because I learn something every day.” She said the counsellors “are easy to talk to and they’re always there. They talk to you honestly and on your own level.” And if they can’t help you, she said, they’ll find someone who can.
Back on the second floor, phones are ringing. People are moving about, and Vallentin’s office door is open. Hanging on the walls inside are pictures of his five children. On a bookshelf in the corner sits a very-worn football and, beside it, a baseball, torn and bruised. VaUentin hangs up a phone and rolls back his swivel chair.
With relaxed efficiency people answer phones, sort papers, take messages and walk around. On most of the faces in this former Unemployment Insurance Office are smiles. Smiles from people helping others to learn or get a job.
“Most of them (staff and counsellors) have crawled out of the ditch themselves,” Vallentin said.
Perhaps the success of Scarborough’s Futures program lies in the people behind it, he hints
“But everyone is a little crazy around here,” said Vallentin. “It helps…”