Assisting young people by enhancing their education with practical training and getting at-risk youth local work can strengthen their well-being and enrich Quebec’s English-speaking communities.
These goals are at the heart of two projects, supported by the federal government’s $1 million Social Partnership Development Program. They provide educational and work opportunities for youth in the Magdalen Islands and Quebec City.
They have been awarded grants from Community Innovation Fund, managed by the Quebec Community Groups Network. The Magdalen Islands, a five-hour ferry ride from PEI, is home to one of the most isolated English-speaking communities in Quebec. It has 675 residents who in the 2016 Census gave English as their mother tongue, 5.7 per cent of the total population.
“We’ve been here since the 1800s and most of the population are fishermen or employed by the fishing industry,” says Helena Burke, executive director of the Council for Anglophone Magdalen Islanders Providing job opportunities for English youth in rural Quebec (CAMI), created in 1987 to defend the rights of English speakers.
The need to expand employment possibilities for young people is a way to maintain population levels. Burke recalled that when she graduated from high school in 1997 there were 100 students from prekindergarten to Secondary V compared to current total of 45 students.
The decline in numbers underlines the importance of programs to encourage youth to find reasons to stay, she noted. More than 90 per cent of English speakers live in Old Harry, Entry Island, or Grosse Île, where Burke grew up and still lives. With its $105,000 grant over two years, supplemented by local funding, CAMI’s youth program began in June 2017 with two objectives – to expose youth to careers other than the fishery and use local human resources to provide training and possibly future employment.
As Burke noted, they already know how to fish. One of the mentoring programs teaches how to build fiberglass boats, useful and profitable during the long winter. Three local firms are always looking for skilled labour.
“They’ve got a waiting list a mile long for new boats,” Burke said. Under the program, students also are taught carpentry and small motor repair. “These are useful hands-on skills,” Burke said.
“You might fish for two or three months of the year, but the rest of the time you could be using trade skills,” Burke said. Some 15 students have taken part, most in the three last years of high school. Local businesses that are always looking for skilled workers were recruited, and the project made it even more attractive for them to participate.
“Initially, we paid the businesses to host the students, provide proper training and mentorships, and as part of the deal we asked them to pay the students the minimum wage. This was an added incentive for the students, who have few opportunities for extra work on the islands,” Burke said.
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A total of four students had remunerated work, with the focus on boat building. This year the program is incorporated into the regular high-school curriculum, the course where students learn about different careers.
Since it’s part of the school program, students were not paid. The focus was carpentry. “They started building benches and will sell them to the community and the money collected will be re-injected into the program to buy materials,” Burke said.
Students also built a greenhouse and garden boxes and were taught how to use them to grow vegetables. The project will be looking for additional funding when the fiscal year wraps up March 31, Burke said. In Quebec City, the Voice of English-Speaking Quebec, founded in 1982 to advocate for and strengthen the community, was awarded a total of $123,64 over two years for its innovation grant.
Initially the project was designed to foster employability skills for special needs youth in partnership with local businesses. It was judged to be the kind of innovative program that was necessary for this community of 15,270 Anglophones.
Brigitte Wellens, executive director of Voice of English-speaking Quebec, explained that clientele soon expanded beyond young people on the autism spectrum or with disabilities to include at-risk youth coping with addiction, socioeconomic, family, or mental health issues. In its first year, the project offered ten work opportunities for four special-needs youth and placements for nine this year so far, project coordinator Dominique Paddack said. The age range is 16 to 26, and the first work opportunities were community events such as festivals and the Christmas basket campaign.
“One high-school student got to work 20 hours a week with a residential cleaning company, which gave him eight months of experience last year. Now he’s on to something else – a good example of our making a link with a firm that needed workers and through a social worker at one of the local high schools, to find a part-time opportunity for a student.” The program subsidized the student’s work.
As well, four special-needs youth have been employed since June at an annual book fair, sponsored by the Eastern Quebec Learning Centre, an adult education centre in Ste. Foy. The money raised at the fair was given to the Special Needs Activities and Community Services Entrepreneurs (SNACS) for activities. The work included sorting and labelling some 25,000 books that were offered for sale.
“This type of project gives these students work experience, the chance to earn money, builds their self-esteem, and helps with their socialization,” Paddack said. Some participants have difficulty speaking French and so these opportunities enable them to work in English. Wellens noted that once specialneeds youth are out of the school system, and after they turn 21, there are no more services for them.
“For special-needs youth who would either fall under the radar or not be considered employable, there is no other organization within the English-speaking community that can address their needs and find work opportunities for them,” she said.
“This work contributes to the community’s vitality, creates awareness, allows employers to make an important social gesture by showing sensitivity to the needs of these individuals. It also provides concrete measures that address some of the needs of these youth that otherwise would not have these experiences,” Wellens concluded.