Meet the Youth Education and Employment Team

This story with our Trauma Care Team was originally published in our Spring 2020 newsletter (March 6).

In 2019, YESS launched the Youth Education and Employment Program, a 12-week program that focuses on job readiness skills like cover letter writing and interview skills, workshops for job-specific trainings, and practicum opportunities to help youth identify their career goals. While youth learn work skills, staff provide support and a range of other services to help youth achieve and maintain employment.

This new program is spearheaded by Amanda Van Huenen and Melissa Johnson. Amanda has been a youth worker for eight years and started at YESS in 2018 as a youth worker. Melissa started at YESS in 2015 as a resource worker soon after graduating with her Social Work Diploma. While education and employment have always been part of the focus for youth at YESS, Amanda and Melissa have developed a program that provides intentional career and job training and support all within YESS, so youth don’t have to search out other programs to access these opportunities. This has helped remove barriers for youth who need wraparound support to heal from their trauma and start setting goals for the future.

We sat down with Amanda and Melissa to talk about their experiences in facilitating the first 12-week group of the Youth Education and Employment Program.

Describe the new Youth Education and Employment Program and what it provides for youth.

MJ: The program is 12 weeks. We’re going to do four rounds of it, 16 youth per round. The youth get different tickets, they do different job shadows, they get eight weeks of practicum experience they can put on their resumes, and then we support them move into whatever their goals are, whether that’s education or employment. We help remove barriers to things like work clothes, bus tickets. We’ll provide them with transportation if they need it. All those things that they might not otherwise be able to get on their own. The program has all the support and we’re here all the time if they need anything. We’ve seen a lot of growth already.

AVH: I noticed when I started that there was a gap between youth keeping a job and the skills they need. It was easy to find a job, but a month later they were back at the office saying, “I need to find a new job” or “I need twenty resumes” or things like that. I noticed that gap and I wanted to develop a program that was taking away all those barriers they were facing and give them those tools and the experience of what it is like to be out there working.

[The youth] are getting paid for the twelve weeks. That’s one of the biggest things. It’s helping the youth to start saving or getting housing or finally buying that cell phone that they need to feel safe, so they can make a phone call if something happens. It helps our work in being harm reductive because they don’t have to steal stuff so they can have a sandwich or something. Or maybe they have an addiction and they had to do sketchy stuff for that and now they don’t because now they can provide for it. In a harm reductive way, this program is helping with that.

What are the shadow shift opportunities available?

MJ: We’re trying to have a bank of opportunities to have in a variety of industries based on what the youth are interested in. We want the youth to get into things they enjoy. Landscaping, carpentry, restaurants and kitchens, retail, construction. Those are the big ones.

AVH: Some of our youth are interested in careers, but most of them are looking for entry-level positions.

MJ: The practicums are great in that way. You see youth who think they’re interested in something and then they do the practicum and it’s not really for them. They realize more about themselves.

AVH: We have those conversations with them. We tell them that it’s okay to not know what they want to do. Some of them are very young, fifteen, sixteen. So it’s okay to explore those things. It’s very good for the youth who don’t have a healthy family situation or people who have no home or safety that they can explore these things. It’s very good to have that freedom to do that and not be judged for it. They already get judged for so many other things, right? So to give them that opportunity is good for most of them.

The YESS mission is to walk beside youth on their journeys towards healing and appropriate community integration. How do you think the Youth Education and Employment Program is part of that overall vision?

MJ: We really sit down with the youth and we find out what they want and what their goals are. We could plan out a whole life for them and just say “follow this plan.” But we really sit down with them in an interview process, asking them what they want and what they goals are. We’re pushing them towards those goals and we’re there the whole time for support. We’re checking in with them on their practicums, making sure they’re being accountable. But it’s definitely them who lead the way and we give them the resources and remove the barriers so they can accomplish those. And then there’s the “after” support, helping them transition out and integrate into community, so they meet with a transitions worker, they meet with a navigator. They still need to find jobs, go to school, do their resumes, so there’s still a lot of things to do.

AVH: I don’t think of this as just an employment program. We work with the whole team. Everybody here in support services or the trauma team are part of this program. Everyone is putting their hand in—we’re getting referrals here, we’re going there, we have meetings with others. It’s teamwork. Before employment was just focused on employment, but now we’re working as a team.

We have the youth reflect on themselves, give them control over what they want and what their future looks like. And then we work as a team around that to meet those needs, instead of us making those decisions for them. That’s what I like about this program a lot, is that its one big team working towards that program.

What’s something you wish the wider community knew about YESS youth?

AVH: Their potential. They’re individually unique. They all have something to give. I think a lot of times people see this population as failures, trouble, problems, write them off. That whole negative aspect… They’re just youth. They’re kids. They’re young adults suffering from somebody else’s mistake and we don’t need to constantly put this negativity on them.

MJ: All of our youth have potential and they just need the opportunity. This is the start of an opportunity, but then they need community as well. We need to allow them to be hired at jobs, to be mentored, to be given these things. So having compassion and giving them opportunities because they all have potential. We see so many kids who leave us and go on to be successful in the community and we want more people to help them do that.

Is there a particular remarkable experience you’ve had since launching the Youth Education and Employment Program?

MJ: The youth who we’ve had in our services for a long time, like we’ve had kids who have been here for years, and to see them finally working on something, getting jobs, getting trades tickets, working on resumes, and picturing bigger goals for themselves. I think seeing youth doing that makes this all worth it.

AVH: Because the program’s in-house and specific for our population, to have that develop around them. Every child is different, every child learns differently and it’s the same for our youth. And having such a program that’s created around them makes them feel welcome and like they can succeed.

We have 10 youth graduating from group 1! So that’s a success right there.

If your organization is interested in partnering with our Youth Employment and Education Program as a shadow shift or practicum partner, contact us at 780-468-7070. These opportunities to gain job experience and have a positive, supportive community are a huge part of the healing journey for our youth.

COVID-19 has had a large impact on youth in the Youth Education and Employment Program. We had youth who were unable to finish their work practicums, as well youth that were unable to even start their practicum. Some youth had been doing so well and were being asked to stay on with their practicum as a full-time staff, which unfortunately was unable to happen once COVID-19 forced businesses to lay off most staff. We also had to postpone their graduation from the program as well as the bonus the get once completed. Our group 3 which was to start in March was also postponed until further notice.

With there being limited employment opportunities for anyone during this time it has also made it very difficult for our youth to obtain employment. With no income it is difficult for our youth to work towards their goals including getting a place of their own.


The Youth Education and Employment Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Youth Employment and Skills Strategy


Thank you to the Youth Education and Employment Program group 1 and group 2 partners:

Atlantic Fence

Boston Pizza Whyte Ave

Home Depot

Inland Audio and Visual

MC College

Trinity Youth Project

Waiward Industrial

Walk the Talk

YESS Kitchen

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