How the East Scarborough Works network learns together and works together to link local people to local jobs

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C had worked in both construction and maintenance. His work was in demand but he struggled to move up in payscale. He was working just above minimum wage in precarious employment, which meant he wasn’t always employed and there was a risk of losing his job and therefore his income. This put him in a very precarious situation which created anxiety for him. Without a system of supports and a connection to the union, he didn’t feel like he would ever be able to get a decent job with growth potential in a union on his own. 

In 2022, C joined the East Scarborough Works (ESW)  construction trades pathway. C discussed experiences of racism in the construction sector with the ESW Pathway Coordinator and he shared his experience of seeing many people of colour working in construction and being underpaid when compared to their white counterparts. C stated that he and other people of colour are having similar experiences of racism. The Pathway Coordinator provided a safe space to validate C’s experiences and shared with him how ESW is working to address these issues.

The pathway provided that support system and connection to the union that C was looking for: he worked to qualify for apprentice training, with skills upgrading workshops led by training partner PTP informed by committed union partner LiUNA and tailored to their entry requirements. He had a clear line of sight to a real, specific local construction job, thanks to employer partner University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and their commitment to local hiring in their ongoing campus redevelopment. Network partners collaborated to remove systemic barriers that might get in the way of C’s journey, hosting info sessions about the opportunity right in his neighbourhood, providing transportation and financial supports, and coordinating access to wraparound supports such as a settlement worker. If challenges arose, C had access to his Pathway Coordinator contact as navigator, support person, and advocate when needed.  Now, C is a qualified apprentice and member of a major local trade union. He feels like he can access a fair payscale and has potential for growth, not to mention a sustainable and stable job. And his first job as a new apprentice? Right in his own backyard on a construction project at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, making it easy for him to get to the job site on time every day without having to take several buses and have less time with his family. 

This is the story of East Scarborough Works: the collaborative pathway approach that is laying the tracks to connect local people to real, decent local jobs in Scarborough.

Over the past five years, East Scarborough Works has focused on aligning the local employment ecosystem to work better for people like C facing systemic barriers to employment. Guided by the Connected Community Approach (CCA) , East Scarborough Works centers equity, place-based poverty reduction, and intentional network-weaving among key ‘ecosystem players’, including policy makers, employers, training providers, employment agencies, and local jobseekers. As C’s story demonstrates, what ESW refers to as “network-weaving” among pathway partners goes beyond just making transactional handoffs from one partner to another. Taking the time to bring the players together to understand each other’s realities and build empathy, in order to foster stronger, more sustainable employment pathways that are free of barriers and meet the needs of jobseekers and employers alike, is a key feature of CCA.

The East Scarborough Storefront has now launched a Learning Report that explores the impact of the East Scarborough Works network in addressing systems-level inequities while connecting local people with sustainable employment right in the community. The report also provides a foundation for understanding the tensions that the ESW network will continue to navigate together as we work towards unlocking the potential of an equitable economy in East Scarborough.

This is a timely release as mounting financial pressures throw more households into poverty and precarity, and many employers continue to struggle with understaffing and recruitment challenges. It’s clear that the status quo approaches aren’t working, for jobseekers or for employers. Establishing pathways between jobseekers and employers that are streamlined, meaningful, and sustainable is of growing importance in the current economic climate. Our learnings about how to build a workforce development initiative that is both supply-driven and demand-led mean that we’ve learned how to listen deeply to what jobseekers and employers really need, question our old assumptions, and co-design creative solutions that mean that local people get decent jobs and local employers hire qualified workers. 

This Learning Report documents the difference East Scarborough Works has made toward systems change in our local employment ecosystem. It is important to note that the outcomes, changes and learnings documented are the result of the collective investment and collective action of East Scarborough Storefront and the other key ecosystem players mentioned above. By sharing back the key takeaways of this report now with our East Scarborough Works network, we will have a shared point of reference to plot our path forward. We’re also excited to share our learnings broadly to provide an example of the purpose, power and potential of applying the Connected Community Approach to workforce development.

The following questions have guided our learning:


  • What has changed in the local ecosystem as a result of East Scarborough Works?
  • What difference has The Storefront’s role as community backbone/integrator and its use of the Connected Community Approach made in how the community comes together to address issues of geographic poverty and marginalization?

So What?

  • What is the significance of the changes brought about by the collective investment in East Scarborough Works?

Now What?

  • What tensions continue to exist within the ecosystem?
  • What are important considerations for the future of East Scarborough Works?

With these questions as a guide, the result is a report that doesn’t simply list our accomplishments, but provides an honest look at the challenges and tensions in our work and where we continue to learn. Below, we’ve prepared a series of blog posts summarizing the key takeaways of the report.

So What? Signs & Signals of Systems Change with East Scarborough Works

Now What? Learnings for the Future of East Scarborough Works

We hope you find these learnings useful and inspiring. Furthermore, we all have a role to play in solving systemic issues like geographic poverty, racism, and inequity. If you are part of the East Scarborough employment landscape, whether as a service provider, an employer, a trainer, a union, a funder, or a jobseeker, connecting and coordinating with each other is the first step in addressing fragmentation and forging a stronger community ecosystem. Here are some actions that you can take right now to help make it even easier for more local jobseekers to follow in C’s footsteps along the smooth, aligned pathways to decent local jobs in East Scarborough. Systems change involves us all! 

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