At The Storefront these days, we’re living into our Connected Community Approach (CCA) in new ways that address the geographic nature of poverty. On February 4th, we certainly saw something new and exciting happening when we put the CCA into action for local workforce development at our first East Scarborough Works (ESW) construction trades pathway info session.
Though it may look like it at first glance, East Scarborough Works is not an employment program. Rather, it is much more than that: East Scarborough Works is a network of organizations dedicated to aligning local systems to help people in East Scarborough prepare for, secure and keep decent local jobs that we know are coming. Playing the unique role of workforce intermediary for the network, our team at The Storefront can focus on the work of convening people, building bridges between groups, fostering shared understanding, and broadly designing good processes that help the network work better together to connect local job seekers with seamless pathways to local employment.
In the main space at Progress Church, just down the road from The Storefront, 60 community members came to learn more about the first employment pathway coordinated by East Scarborough Works, designed to connect people looking for work in East Scarborough to jobs in construction we know are coming to University of Toronto Scarborough’s campus, and careers in the construction trades. Through the pathway, Storefront staff Sabina and Parm explained at the session, community members can access the supports they may need along the way, including upgrading skills and addressing personal issues that may get in the way of work. As Merissa and Laura from LiUNA Locals 506 and 183 shared in their part of the presentation, community members can then work to qualify for LiUNA’s training that can lead to union membership, real jobs in Scarborough, and diverse career options.
As everyone mingled and enjoyed snacks after the presentation, there was a feeling of excitement in the room: this was not business-as-usual. This was something different in East Scarborough’s employment ecosystem, and it felt like it was going somewhere. Indeed, our Connected Community Approach to workforce development is not business-as-usual, and that night, it showed: we co-designed the session in collaboration with local residents, local employment service and essential skills providers, as well as with LiUNA and UTSC. Local grassroots leaders had also co-designed our outreach strategy. They spread the word deep into East Scarborough through their own personal networks, equipped with enough information about the opportunity to help friends and neighbours determine whether this particular pathway might be a good fit for them. This was key to ensuring not just that people in the neighbourhood knew about the opportunity-- but that the right people had the right information at the right time to meet their own unique goals.
Why is the idea of place-based workforce development so important? From our 20 years of community building work in East Scarborough, we know that people in Scarborough need jobs. Too many Scarborough residents are living in poverty, with 30% living below the Low Income Cut Off. Unemployment is high, and local job opportunities skew toward precarious and part-time, while poor transit makes it challenging to commute elsewhere to find decent work. We also know that East Scarborough residents need enriched training and support to join their local workforce, because they’ve dealt with under-investment in their community and disconnected support systems for so long. Residents need better information about the future of jobs, and training that meets them where they’re at and addresses participation barriers (e.g. childcare, transportation).
We are not the only ones shining a light on the geographic nature of poverty and unemployment in Toronto, and the need for place-based solutions. A November 2019 Metcalf Foundation report by John Stapleton, with contributions by Dr. Carl James, and Dr. Kofi Hope, “The Working Poor in the Toronto Region: A closer look at the increasing numbers” highlights the rise of working poverty in our city, and its disproportionate impact on racialized and inner suburban communities. If you don’t have time to read the full report, check out these infographics we created here at The Storefront highlighting the report data that is most relevant to the challenges facing Scarborough and other inner suburban communities: 1- Working Poverty Overview ; 2- Working Poverty/Racialization ; 3-Working Poverty / Geography. Our good friend at the Centre for Connected Communities and former Storefront colleague Ajeev Bhatia also just published a powerful commentary piece for the Metcalf Foundation called “Geography Matters,” making connections between Metcalf’s working poverty data, lived experiences of work in Scarborough, and the potential of place-based solutions. East Scarborough Works is one of those place-based solutions.
Now that the rubber is hitting the road with our first employment pathway, we’re excited to follow the momentum and share learnings with our community along the way.