Tracks is a community-based, non-profit agency that has been providing services to job seekers and employers since 1986, and their support is helping to address the many employment challenges. Initially located in the Trott building at the southwest corner of Hurontario and Second Streets, Tracks started out by providing outreach services to youth. Currently located at 50 Hume St., Tracks is a one-stop employment resource centre for youth and adults in the South Georgian Bay Area. Its mission is, “To provide consumer-focused community-based services to the unemployed that promote independence through employment, education, and skills training.”
Tracks offers a wide range of free services, from reviewing resumes and cover letters to providing networking opportunities to helping prepare applications for provincially funded programs. If individuals need more tailored guidance, Tracks also provides one-on-one employment counselling and referral to community partner organizations. “Some people are here for one or two visits; some are here for six months until their plan is developed,” says Julie Hawken, Co-Executive Director of Tracks.
Addressing Employment Challenges
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing shortage has become a prominent issue across the province and the nation. In 2021 Ontario’s Labour Market Report released by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, youth (15-24 years) employment remained 6.9 per cent below the 2019 pre-pandemic level.
To help address this widespread challenge, Tracks partners closely with local employers to help find and retain employees. Examples of its service offerings include job board postings, financial incentives for apprenticeship training, as well as assistance with applying for Canada-Ontario Job Grant (COJG), which provides direct financial support to employers who wish to purchase training for new and existing employees.
Hawken notes that there is a wide range of socioeconomic factors that contribute to employee hiring and retention challenges, from childcare costs, lack of affordable housing to transportation accessibility to mental health. All of these different factors, many of which have been exacerbated during the pandemic, contribute to the hiring challenges employers are facing. “As an organization, we support individuals to change their current situation and achieve their employment goals and refer to community resources that are available,” says Hawken. Whether it is through Tracks services or referral to another organization, Hawken emphasizes that Tracks is dedicated to working with employers to help them address the challenges they face. Hawken states, “We maintain flexibility, and we pivot our services to the individual need and the employer need.”
Dedicated team of professionals
Tracks is overseen by a board of five community members who volunteer their time to provide governance, insight and advice for the organization. “Our board is a very supportive group of people who take their responsibilities seriously. I can’t say enough as to how supportive and helpful they have been in giving us advice and new ideas,” says Bradley Green, financial administrator at Tracks.
Green, who has been working at Tracks since its inception, is one of the organization’s 14 staff members who are dedicated to connecting people with sustainable and meaningful employment opportunities. Hawken, who has been with Tracks for the last 30 years, states that the organization is currently in a state of transition due to the onboarding of new staff members. “We have new team members who are bringing new and refreshing ideas to the table,” says Hawken.
Programs for adults, youth, newcomers and persons with disabilities
Tracks programs have a special focus on adults, youth, newcomers and persons with disabilities. Tracks works with community partners such as Georgian Learning to help newcomers gain access to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. In the past, Tracks has offered its services to newcomers from different countries, from Syria to Ukraine. Tracks also works with individuals with disabilities to help them access the resources they need and gain employment.
For youth of ages 15 to 29, Tracks offers Youth Job Connection, an employment readiness program designed to help young adults launch their careers. Youth Job Connection runs year round and includes a student program component. The participants complete paid pre-employment training that can help them succeed in the workplace, such as First Aid & CPR training, Budgeting, and Career Exploration. After completion of the training, Tracks helps the program participants find a paid job placement in the community. For youth participants who are enrolled in school, Tracks is able to provide pre-employment services after school hours and support a subsidized student work experience of up to 15 hours a week.
Hawken notes that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the capacity of the Youth Job Connection program due to safety protocols. Tracks has returned to delivering the program to in-person, which has helped to increase engagement for the participants but can also provide a hybrid model of service delivery. Intake is continuous for the youth programs, with groups running every three to four weeks, with an average of six to eight participants in each group.
The core programs of Tracks are provincially funded, with some one-off programs funded through the federal government. In partnership with the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, Tracks helps individuals apply for Better Jobs Ontario (formerly Second Career), which provides skills training and financial resources to support laid-off, unemployed individuals looking to return to the workforce. Since 2022, Better Jobs Ontario has expanded to better help youth, gig workers, and people on social assistance. As part of the program, applicants can be eligible to receive up to 52 weeks of training program and up to $28,000 to offset costs such as tuition, books and transportation.
In addition to running its main programs, Tracks partners with community organizations to support job seekers in various ways. Tracks is currently collaborating with Dress for Success Orillia and Barrie to provide women and non-binary individuals with professional clothing resources and The Welcome Centre works out of the Tracks office for one day on a monthly basis supporting newcomers with services needed. Tracks also hosts co-op placement students from Georgian College’s Social Service Worker program and works with the school to monitor and evaluate their learning outcomes.
To learn more about Tracks and its services, visit https://tracks.on.ca/
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Photo Credits: Dave West Photography