We just finished running Getting Ahead in the Workplace for Ontario Works (social assistance) and ODSP (disability support) clients as a field test for the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation. I’ve been facilitating groups for almost 30 years, and I’ve never seen the response I saw with this group. I really wanted to see how it would work with individuals who wanted to be there and others who were just coming because their caseworker told them to do so.

As soon as I could take all their barriers away…transportation, childcare, and give them $25 for each class…well, I’m used to booking in more learners than expected (like airlines, lol), so this time I had 17, and I was hoping for 13 people to stay.

Instead, they all stayed!

Results were unexpected and life altering. Before the group was done, two people had jobs—decent jobs. Eight were going back to school for upgrading. One, who really didn’t want to be there and whose transformation was inspiring to watch, has signed up to be on the Regional Municipality of Waterloo’s Employment and Income Support Community Advisory Committee as a client representative. He asked me about joining, without me approaching him! Three are job searching diligently, and we have a local manufacturer who has asked any of the interested graduates to apply. The others are all feeling more positive about their opportunities.

We also had an investigator come up with a great idea that I would do again: We bought little notebooks (package of five for $1), and everyone got one at the last session, put their name on it, then passed it around the room. Everyone wrote a positive message to that person and signed it. It made everyone feel really good about themselves.

I just wanted to share what an amazing experience this was and how life transforming it was for everyone involved. Caseworkers have been emailing me and talking to me about the differences they’ve seen in their clients. I have a waiting list of 14 people for the next program already!