Hiring portal aims to connect once-homeless youth with job opportunities

TheGlobeandMail.com – ROB/Commentary
Nov. 10, 2015.   Deborah Berwick, Paul Klein and Tara Talbot

Deborah Berwick is senior manager of community affairs for the Home Depot Canada Foundation. Paul Klein is president of Impakt, a B Corp. that creates opportunities for corporations to profit from being socially responsible. Tara Talbot is vice-president of human resources and communications for Workopolis.

There is a strong economic argument to be made for tackling poverty.

Businesses create value by focusing and optimizing their resources to solve their customers’ problems. We believe that corporations can also help solve social problems and should apply the practices that make them valuable as businesses to the issues that are of highest priority to Canadians.

Education and training for First Nations, effective immigration policy and environmental strategy and regulations are some of the many issues that urgently require attention and that intersect with the interest and resources of businesses. Helping to end youth homelessness is another. Given the important relationship between meaningful employment and stable housing, this is also an area where the business community can play an important role.

While the unemployment rate for Canadian youth is almost double that of the general population, young people who have experienced homelessness are significantly overrepresented in these numbers. For them, finding meaningful work is often incredibly daunting as a result of stereotypes and the conditions that have caused them to become homeless. Despite the efforts of youth-serving organizations to prepare them for work and provide support to make them successful employees, the number of young people who secure employment is far below what is possible. The result? Youth homelessness is perpetuated, at an unacceptable cost to young people, their families and to society.

We asked ourselves how we could best use our combined assets to help more young people find employment. We assessed our respective assets: leadership and experience in linking business with social change, the best technology to connect employers with job candidates and a corporate foundation with a broad network of community partners and a $10-million pledge to help end youth homelessness.

The result is HireUp – Canada’s first national hiring portal that connects employers with youth-serving organizations across Canada. Through the portal, Canadian employers gain access to the skills and talents of young people who have previously spent time on the streets and have now completed job skills training programs to fully prepare them for the workplace. The continuing support of youth-serving organizations ensures that both young job seekers and employers are successful.

This collaboration happened organically, through a shared interest in making a tangible impact on an important social issue in a way that leverages our individual strengths. All three partners have used their relationships with other organizations and the skills of their internal talent to shape and develop HireUp, and learn more about youth homelessness in the process.

Employers are already starting to recognize that through hardship, young people who have been homeless often become stronger, setting their focus on gaining control of their lives and maintaining stability. Companies such as Peak Products, a British Columbia-based company that’s one of Canada’s fastest-growing home improvement and construction firms, has found that hiring young people who have experienced homelessness is a smart business decision. By engaging underemployed youth, Peak is able to hire from a pool of dedicated, enthusiastic employees with a range of experiences, skills and knowledge.

We recognize that there is no perfect way to balance effective social change with a business’s need to be profitable. Our plan is to carefully measure, evaluate and adapt HireUp as needed to best address the needs of employers, youth-serving organizations and young people. The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, a non-profit, non-partisan research institute based at York University, will help measure and evaluate the program.

Although HireUp is a charitable project of the Home Depot Canada Foundation, carried out with support and contributions of Workopolis and Impakt, it is not a charity. It has been designed to operate as a sustainable social enterprise that will reinvest profit to help charitable youth-serving organizations improve employment programs for youth. While charitable organizations play an important role in addressing social issues, businesses can also be effective agents of social change.

We hope that Canadian companies will recognize the business and societal value of hiring young people, and take advantage of HireUp and other employment programs offered by community organizations across the country. We believe it will inspire more corporations to lead, collaborate, innovate and act.

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