As Times Change, there's help for women looking for work

Elizabeth Woods with Times Change outreach coordinator Katie Didyk, right. Woods lost her job after 33 years. Photo by Valerie Hauch of The Toronto Star.

For 33 years, Elizabeth Woods got up in the morning with a purpose — she worked full-time as a receptionist for a large Toronto corporation and she loved it.

“I was good at my job,” she says with fierce pride.

So it came as a total shock when she came back from vacation about two years ago and was soon told her job was eliminated and she’d have to pack up and leave. Her job loss came around the same time as the Bank of Canada said the recession was officially over. But the recovery has not been reflected in the numbers of unemployed women coming to Times Change, an employment service targeted to them — and which jumped 20 percent in 2008 and almost 40 percent in 2009/2010, according to marketing and outreach coordinator Katie Didyk.

Last year, more than half of its 1,466 clients were over the age of 45 and a quarter were immigrants. In 2009/2010 about 32 percent of Times Change clients had been out of work for more than a year. The next year, that figure rose to 41 percent. The good news is that about 74 percent of their clients have a “successful outcome,” says Didyk, meaning they go on to take courses, enrol in school or find employment.

Woods’ path toward rejoining the job market started when she left her former employer’s building. “I walked out with my head held high,” she said. But it was a devastating change — and looking back now, she feels she went into a sort of shock. A strong sense of inner resilience helped her bounce back.

“I’m not ready to retire. I still have a lot to offer to the workplace,” said the energetic 63-year-old, who decided she would do something about it.

She heard about Times Change, a non-profit downtown service that got its start in the women’s movement 36 years ago. It’s one of 149 member agencies that receives United Way funding ($154,000), in addition to funding from other sources. Woods took a 10-week career-planning workshop, which was “very worthwhile.” She realized that she needed to upgrade her skills and recently enrolled in a three-month private college Microsoft Office training program, funded through Second Career, an Ontario government program that helps retrain workers who have been laid off. She’ll be graduating in December and is feeling very positive.

“I’m in a very good space now,” says Woods, who’s come to terms with the loss of her last job and is looking forward to the next one — “anything to do with people.” In the interim, she feels she’s “made the right choice” and gives credit to Times Change for helping her figure it all out.

Many are disheartened when they first come through the doors of the office, in a highrise near Sherbourne St. and Bloor St. E. “They learn they’re not alone and that they can build and upgrade their skills and be a part of something,” says Didyk. The workshops are tailored. The job search workshop, for instance, is designed for women who already know the type of job they want and have the skills for it. Over four morning sessions, they learn job strategies — including networking — and get help in preparing resumes, cover letters and how to prepare for job interviews. The women participate in mock job interviews and can watch themselves on video afterwards.

The career-planning workshop helps women who want to zero in on their skills, interests and goals, and make decisions about next steps — including training, or even changing their previous occupation.

There’s a resource centre where women can research job fields, employers and courses, use computers, photocopiers, fax machines, printers and phones, and also check a job board with listings from public- and private-sector employers and job banks. Employers can contact Times Change directly with jobs they need filled, and staff will match up clients who are on their database. Staff and volunteers also help women with introductory sessions on Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and email usage.

Desiree Aras is one of those volunteers who drops in and helps the Times Changes clients with computer support. She knows how they feel because the 30-year-old Venezuelan immigrant, who came here in 2010, is a Times Change user herself. She took the job search workshop since, even though she has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a Master’s degree in education, she doesn’t have Canadian experience. As a computer coach at Times Change, she’s working with others in her field of expertise and enjoying the interactions in English.

“This has helped me to be more confident with my language skills,” says Aras, who is still looking for work. “I was nervous speaking to people before and they encourage me so much to be myself.”

Story by Valerie Hauch, Staff Reporter. Published October 14, 2011; courtesy of The Toronto Star.

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