An innovative employability training and job connection program developed by SAWRO for the women of low-income immigrant families is having a dramatic impact on family incomes in our community. Since SAWRO began rolling out the Danforth Women’s Job Network in January 2013, project workers have assisted 346 community women to get jobs. For almost all of these women, this was their first jobs since coming to Canada and half of those who got jobs had no work experience before emigrating. There has been a dramatic increase in earned income by community women, which has reduced the poverty in the women’s families and increased the personal agency of the individual women.
Since SAWRO began working in the Oakridge-Crescent Town neighborhood, women from the many low-income immigrant families in the area have been telling us that lack of access to the labour market is their most urgent problem. These expressions were confirmed by investigations carried out by SAWRO workers.
In 2009, the Metcalf Foundation funded a community poverty assessment by SAWRO workers. Through 400 in-home surveys SAWRO workers established that even though most immigrant women in Oakridge-Crescent Town said they want to work, their employment rate was only 20 percent.
In response, SAWRO began focussing its work on connecting community women with agencies providing employment and employability services and supports. It was soon discovered, however, that many community women also faced barriers to accessing employability and employment services—the women we referred to other agencies for employment services kept “bouncing back.”
The first step in creating a program response to this situation was for SAWRO workers to create a profile of the community women which defined barriers the women face in accessing both the labour market and the available employability/employment services. This profiling revealed the unique and complex barriers many immigrant women in our community have with respect to employment and to overall integration.
The outcome of this profiling, along with a survey of scholarly research on the issue, was presented at a community and stakeholder roundtable organized by SAWRO and COSTI in 2012. The roundtable identified Bangladeshi immigrant women of the East Danforth neighborhoods as a pocket of very low female labour force participation and related this to the high poverty rate in their families. During the roundtable SAWRO also released information about Danforth Women’s Job Network (DWjobnet), the innovative employability and job connection programs it had worked out to meet needs and profile of these women.
A project based on the DWjobnet programming was presented by COSTI and SAWRO to the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration (MCI) as an innovative pilot project under the Newcomer Settlement Program. The project was accepted for 2 year funding by MCI in 2013. This project is one of only 8 such projects accepted province wide that year.
An Innovative Approach Based on Utilizing Community Assets
While our community has many problems, it also has important assets. SAWRO has always considered the under-utilized talents and abilities of immigrant women to be one of the community’s most valuable assets. Women from the community are deployed in every aspect of the delivering DWjobnet services. Community women are recruited and trained as peer job developers, peer job search coaches, peer instructors and as peer outreach workers.
Another community asset deployed by DWjobnet is the labour market knowledge, hiring information and employer contacts which the community people who are already working have acquired. A key element in the success of the DWjobnet project has been accessing this community knowledge. The project maintains a network of contacts with community women who are working to gather employment and hiring information and to circulate this among the job seekers. Most of our employment hiring information and employer connections come from our contacts among women who are already working. SAWRO’s deep connections and trust among the community people make this approach possible.