Six proud graduates strutted up to receive their certificates Friday morning after completing 18 weeks of training and work experience aimed at helping them get a job.
The graduates are part of the Strive 4 Work program, a federally funded program that is part of the Employabilities organization, which is geared toward helping folks with disabilities and other barriers to employment find work.
Graduates and brothers Eric Fearon, 24, and Nelson Fearon, 22, were singing the program's praises after the graduation ceremony.
“This is probably one of the greatest decisions I've made my life to really get me on track and start thinking about my future,” Eric said.
“It was very incremental. It wasn't overwhelming. And you always felt like, ‘I'm going to succeed. I have all the tools in my toolbox’… the amount of support was incredible."
Both of the brothers enjoyed coming in for the eight-week employment skills courses and meeting the other eight students who were part of their intake class.
“I think it just helps to find employment that really works for your needs,” Nelson said.
Eric was able to land a job at the Grapevine Deli in St. Albert, where he said his employer is “incredibly accommodating.”
Eric suffers from anxiety issues and was thankful to find a place that would work with him at his pace.
“Finding a place that would take it slower and really teach me what I'm doing, someone that I could ask questions to constantly, and someone that wouldn’t just throw me into the deep end,” Eric said.
Nelson said his employer at the Cajun House is also extremely accommodating to his anxiety challenge.
“He helps me manage my tasks very well. If I'm getting stressed or anything, he is always willing to step in and help me ... and willing to approach those problems in a way that makes me feel a lot more comfortable.”
On top of finding great employers, the brothers still feel supported from the program even after they have graduated.
“The staff here, they're like, ‘If you need to, email, call, anything along your way, just to keep you calm and manage the anxiety,' so that I could succeed,” Eric said.
Eric and Nelson are both taking a semester off from university where they are both scoring high marks and scholarships while majoring in Philosophy, because they wanted to take some time to get some work experience before graduating.
Their proud mom, Michelle Fearon, was in the room watching her sons graduate and said she sees a major improvement in her sons’ confidence and communication skills. Michelle agreed with her sons that being part of the program was the best thing they had ever done.
“We were stuck,” Michelle said, noting it was hard to help her kids get jobs.
“Especially when most jobs are in the people industry and you have to be an extrovert to get them and have the skills to do them, or the funeral industry. And you have to kind of be an extrovert to get them, to have the skills to do it,” Michelle said.
Michelle said she used to worry about what would happen if her boys graduated university with their degrees but without work experience. The mom and social worker was pleased to finally find a program in St. Albert that could help her sons learn some great job skills without having to leave the city.
The graduating class on Friday was the second class to finish the Strive 4 Work program, and the third group has already started their classroom skill portion of the training.
Alexia McGuigan, program co-ordinator for Strive 4 Work, said they bring in 10 students per intake, but generally have around 30 people apply, showing the high demand for the program in the city.
McGuigan said they serve anyone who has barriers to employment, including persons with disabilities or medical conditions or even those who have been out of the workforce for a while, like seniors, and need to brush up on skills to help them gain employment.