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Bridging the Gap: The YMCA’s Fresh Approach to Employment Helps Fort McMurray Employers

Jeff Brown
BY Jeff Brown
(3 votes)

Fort McMurray business owners are seeking capable new employees.  Young area workers are looking for good jobs.  Now the YMCA introduces a program with a proven track record for bringing the two together.

After successful runs in Edmonton and Grande Prairie, Bridging the Gap debuted in Fort McMurray on January 23.  Fifteen job seekers between the ages of 16 and 30 completed eight weeks of in-class training, followed by 12 weeks of field placement with local businesses.

Cameron Wilson, Senior Director of Community and Housing Initiatives for the YMCA’s Wood Buffalo region, quarterbacked the pilot session.  He sees ample reason to be confident the first group of participants will have the skills and readiness to do well in their chosen field.  The Y has supplied area employers with many capable workers through past programs but few have been as selective as BTG.

“It’s pretty competitive.”  Wilson says.  “A lot of people apply.”  Ads for the program brought in 55 hopeful job seekers.  Fifteen were selected to take part in BTG.  Thanks to funding from the Federal Government’s Skills Link program, those participants are actually paid to learn.  About half of them pursue energy sector careers, so having prohibitively pricey tickets like BSO, H2S Alive is a big draw.  Others might pursue prizes like the Proserve hospitality certification.

“What we really look for is motivation,” Wilson says.  One participant who dedicated herself to improving her interview skills went on to win every job she applied for.

The most common barriers for participants are lack of Canadian workplace experience and poor employment records with no references.  Participants also come in lacking education, computer access, and skills in language, job searching, and interviewing. 

Milena Joveska, the BTG Program Facilitator, has worked with her Edmonton and Grande Prairie counterparts to create a curriculum that helps participants overcome all of these obstacles. 

Participants are equipped with BTG materials to study, and a laptop-filled computer lab to search jobs and work on resumes.  While Joveska shows them how to optimize these resources, BTG’s employment counselor conducts twice-weekly one-on-one sessions with all participants – keeping every step-by-step plan toward working in energy, retail, childcare, education, engineering or other field on track. 

Workshops provide participants with a practical grasp of essentials, including conflict resolution, workplace expectations and workplace culture.

“They do assignments, journaling, and mock interviews,” Joveska says.  “It’s an interactive style of in-class experience, not really like classical teaching.”  That experience includes volunteer opportunities, in which participants can apply their in-class learning and gain work experience helping local non-profits like the Food Bank or Habitat for Humanity.

With great resources and training comes great responsibility.  Participants paid like workers are expected to follow workplace rules.  Lateness can get their pay docked or oblige them to catch up in their free time. 

“For eight weeks, they’ve been coming in on time, and treating the classroom portion like a job,” Wilson says.  So businesses that offer 12-week placements are “getting somebody who’s got a track record for being responsible.” 

Employers are also reimbursed half of the participant’s pay, up to minimum wage, courtesy of Skills Link.  BTG staff members are always available – helping employers resolve rare issues they might have with participants, and helping participants articulate rare issues with their placements.  Last but not least, employers who like participants’ work can keep them on. 

Kevis Wilson, BTG Program Coordinator, says 80 per cent of those completing this spring’s eight-week pilot session have found work.  One participant is returning to school and the others are actively seeking employment

“The feedback we’ve had from employers has been very good,” Cameron Wilson says.  “Our employees have done a fantastic job in their placements so far.”  That success has spurred the YMCA to make Bridging the Gap a full-time resource for Fort McMurray employers.

Backed by a $5-million commitment from the federal government, the program has been renewed for another three years in all three YMCA of Northern Alberta regions – meaning more of the best available candidates will be forged into some of Fort McMurray’s most capable workers.

That seems appropriate for a business community that appreciates the value of untapped resources.



Some of Alberta’s most promising employees are ready to put their skills to work for you.  If you’d liked to know more about this government-subsidized opportunity, contact Kevis Wilson: or 587-537-5015.