Pathways opens the virtual door to help clients find work

Group at Pathways, standing outside the building looking at the camera

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This project will open doors for people. It will help people build their skills while reducing the barriers they may have to doing that.”

Paul Hubert
Chief Executive Officer, Pathways

‘We need to be more connected and accessible than ever before’

With an explosion in remote job opportunities since the pandemic, the way people work has changed dramatically. And so have the needs and expectations of those looking for work.

Pathways Employment Help Centre is meeting those needs by launching Open the Virtual Door, a project to make sure all people in London and Middlesex County can access its services – even if they can’t attend its offices in person.

With federal pandemic-recovery funding allocated by United Way Elgin Middlesex, the agency is updating its technology system and bringing in expert staff needed to offer its clients virtual access to skills training, employment counselling and its United Way-funded advocacy services.

“This project will open doors for people,” said Pathways’ Chief Executive Officer Paul Hubert. “It will help people build their skills while reducing the barriers they may have to doing that.

“In a post-pandemic world, for Pathways to provide equitable service, we need to be more connected and accessible than ever before.”

Employment services include resume-writing and interviewing skills as well as education on how to use available online platforms to search and apply for jobs. Other services include skills-training, certification programs and advocacy for people who need help applying for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

Chief Executive Officer Paul Hubert, Pathways

Community needs have changed

Evidence has long shown that life circumstances including lack of childcare or transportation and mental health issues such as social anxiety, can hurt people’s ability to attend appointments, classes and find employment.

In addition to those challenges, many people have adjusted to remote and online services as ”the norm,” in recent years, said Sarah Gastle, director of business, development & communications.

“Making virtual services more available to people is essential to meeting the needs of the community now, because the community needs have changed,” she said.

“A lot of people are just not comfortable right now walking through a physical door. This project changes the door that they have to go through. It makes it something they can do.”

UWEM-funded advocacy service supports the community

The recovery funding will allow Pathways to install a virtual studio for its advocacy services which are funded by United Way Elgin Middlesex.

Through that service, Pathways has two paralegals who work as advocates to help people apply and file appeals for benefits. For example, if someone unable to work due to health issues has been denied disability support from the province, the advocate will represent in an appeal at a tribunal hearing.

Over the past 2 years Pathways has served 897 advocacy clients and assisted in 290 social benefits hearings.

Successful advocacy can lead to much-needed financial assistance, which assists individuals as well as others, said Gastle.

Sarah Gastle, director of business, development & communications, Pathways

“When people receive their social benefits, they are able to have a roof over their head and go into the community and buy groceries,” said Gastle. “So with United Way funding, our advocacy service supports the individual, and it also supports their family and our community.

Band-Aid solution showed promise

The potential for Open the Virtual Door became clear in the early days of COVID-19, after Pathways quickly adapted to Zoom and other online platforms to keep serving its clients.

Staff could immediately see the immense accessibility benefits to offering remote services – particularly for clients who had trouble getting to the centre for various reasons. But the pivot online had been done with “urgency, not sustainability in mind,” Gastle said.

And without the adequate technology system to sustain virtual services, the nonprofit had almost completely returned to in-person when the Government of Canada announced its Community Services Recovery Fund to address needs that emerged or increased since the start of COVID-19.

“Now we can make sure we use the best model of service and we have the best means of connecting with people,” Gastle said.

With Open the Virtual Door, Pathways will continue to offer its skills training and certification classes, workshops and sessions in person during the day, but clients can opt to log-in during the evenings or weekends if that is best for them.

Group at Pathways walking into the building

“Without the funding we would not be able to do this.”

Pandemic shone a light on virtual potential

Director of Skills Training, Corrina MacDonald said one class she’s most excited about offering virtually is Pathways’ Administration and Clerical, which is primarily taken by women.

“The women who want to take this course are often the main caregiver in their household and not able to be in a classroom setting all week,” MacDonald said. “This allows them to better themselves and work on their own career goals, but move at a pace that works for them and their family.”

During the first four weeks of Pathways 2020 Administrative and Clerical course, one woman in the class had been quiet and reserved.

Out of the workforce nearly a decade as a stay-at-home mom, she seemed shy and uncertain, despite being knowledgeable about computers and technology.

But when class resumed on Zoom during the first COVID-19 shutdown, the client’s confidence soared as she helped others navigate online class.

“Many people struggled, but this client came out of her shell,” said Corrina MacDonald, director of skills training. ”At the end of the course, she received the highest achievement award.

“She ended up with a virtual job.”

See the full list of funded projects and for more information about the Community Services Recovery Fund.

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