It can be difficult for any young adult to know what career path to pursue. For the youth we serve at Eva’s, it’s even harder.

As youth at risk of or experiencing homelessness, they may be processing trauma or dealing with social stigmas and discrimination associated with being Black, racialized, Indigenous and/or 2SLGBTQ+ – any and all of which makes it tough to plan for employment.

That’s why we offer our 20-week Youth Succeeding in Employment Program (YSEP): to inspire and support youth as they consider their next steps. We work closely with youth to identify their strengths and interests and build a career-based action plan that starts with experience.

“YSEP empowers young people who are living in our transitional housing program and are ready for the next step to create economic stability for themselves. We help them get back on their feet and be ready for the opportunities and challenges they will encounter in the employment sector in Toronto,” said Sanaaj Jackson, program manager of training and employment at Eva’s.

YSEP program builds employment skills first

The first five weeks of the program are rooted in developing pre-employment skills. Participants are paid a training stipend of minimum wage to take part in 30 hours of weekly career exploration and preparation. In addition to one-on-one time with an employment advisor to identify their unique strengths and interests and learn to build a resume and cover letter, they earn valuable certifications.

“They get CPR training, their Food Handlers and Smart Serve certificates, and workplace health and safety training. We also bring in facilitators to teach them about their rights in the workplace as employees, the importance of managing their mental wellness, and how to have a professional attitude,” said Sanaaj.

Valuable work experience builds resumes

When participants graduate from the career exploration and preparation phase, they begin 15 weeks of work experience in a placement connected to their interests. Eva’s employment partners span many industries, including retail, restaurants, the arts, and non-profit organizations.

“We partner with employers who can create quality employment experiences for our young folks. We’re not just sending them into the workplace to make money; we want them to find their strengths and passions while they learn on the job,” said Sanaaj.

Partner employers are eligible for a wage subsidy program that reimburses up to $6,000 in youth wages.

Vivine Scarlett, founder/executive director of Dance Immersion, a non-profit organization that produces, promotes, and supports dancers and dances of the African Diaspora, had a positive experience as an employer of an Eva’s intern.

“Despite the fact that we were working mainly remotely, we were able to connect with our intern and ensure she had real work experience in an administrative role. She became part of our team, doing research for an upcoming international conference, archiving material, participating in team meetings, and working directly with me,” said Vivine.

“She was a pleasure to work with and it was helpful to have a younger voice chime in on our team meetings.”

Sanaaj and her employment advisors at Eva’s stay connected with youth while they’re on the job, checking in to ensure they’re succeeding and funding transportation support, work clothes or other supplies that make their employment sustainable.

“We also have one-on-one meetings with our youth to help them figure out a roadmap for their success when they complete the program,” said Sanaaj.

Since working in the program, Sanaaj says she’s seen countless success stories. In many cases, that’s continued employment when the internship is over, and sometimes it’s redirecting youth who didn’t find a good fit with the job they selected. Always, the youth who complete the program walk away with valuable experience and training they can use to find another fulfilling job.

“A lot of times, YSEP introduces youth to who they are and how they can turn their pain into power. They feel like they’ve been given a chance at a fresh start,” said Sanaaj.