SEEDworks offers a safe place to learn, build skills
Restoring hope and dreaming big after years of hard times can be challenging. Often what’s needed is just for someone to give you a chance.
And that’s what The Mustard Seed’s SeedWorks program aims to do.
“SeedWorks is the social enterprise branch of The Mustard Seed’s Employment Program,” says Eric Chiu, Employment Manager at The Mustard Seed. “The main purpose is to help people transition back into the workplace.”
“We have been providing litter and needle collection services in Old Strathcona for nearly a decade and began doing so in Chinatown and the rest of McCauley as well since 2020,” says Eric.
The project offers people a fixed-term contract to do entry-level work in the community and provides the support of an Employment Coach to help them develop or practice the skills they’ll need in a longer-term position.
The goal is to see each employee leave the program for permanent work elsewhere.
“Our three coaches support this skill development and assist with resume-building, interview prep, job searching, and training referrals,” says Eric. “We call ourselves coaches because we want to help empower and equip people with the skills to not only find a job, but to hold onto a job.”
The challenges the program’s clients face are varied.
Some of them may not have worked for several years at a time and need to get back into a regular routine or to practice skills like conflict resolution and communication. Others may be immigrants looking to gain some work experience in Canada.
“In many situations, if we don't get along with someone, we can avoid them,” says Eric. “But in the workplace we can’t quit a job just because we don't like someone. So SeedWorks is a safe environment for people to learn, experience, and grow. If there’s a problem we say ‘How can we better manage the situation? You didn’t make it to work on time, so what do we need to do to get you to work on time?’”
By providing these contract employees with a safe place to make mistakes and learn from them, lifelong skills can be built and retained. They leave the program with greater confidence, recent employment experience on their resumes, and a few work-related references.
“Once they’re in a more long-term job, they've got the skills to manage and address any of the hardships that come up on a day-to-day basis that we all face,” says Eric.
The program wouldn’t be what it is without the support of the Chinatown & Area Business Association, the Old Strathcona Business Association, and the City of Edmonton, through Capital City Clean Up and McCauley Revitalization.
“They’re the ones who fund it,” says Eric. “They believe in our participants and our program. At the same time, we’re contracted to help clean and beautify the community.”
While earning an income and practicing skills, the program employees are able to engage their passion for giving back.
“We’ve seen numerous individuals that have stayed at our shelters go through this program,” says Eric. “They’ve had unstable housing, they haven’t worked for several years, maybe because of addictions or mental health at times, or they’ve experienced domestic abuse and were fleeing violence.”
In these complex situations, getting back on your feet can seem like an insurmountable challenge.
“We had one person who hadn’t worked in about 20 years,” says Eric. “They didn’t even know where to begin. They had goals in mind but they didn't know what it’s like to be in the workplace, what kind of skills are necessary. That’s where the coaching comes in, we show them what to expect through working for SeedWorks.”
They worked with the program for about six months and then found secure employment elsewhere.
“We’re going to journey alongside them in going through an application, interviews, and background checks,” he explains. “How do they discuss their past with a future employer, if they ask about a record check? How do they navigate an HR onboarding process, bank accounts, SIN number? Through all these things, we’re here to support them.”
The program also ensures they know what their rights are.
“Some individuals may not have been treated in a legal or fair way previously,” says Eric.
The program works: people adjust to the new environment and eventually find work in the community.
“Over the past two years, 14 participants had been formally part of the program,” says Eric. “Of those, 12 moved onto sustainable employment opportunities upon or shortly after graduation.”
Eric emphasizes that this program works because of the partnership.
“We have really strong partners who believe in the program,” he says. “We’re performing a service that’s required, it’s not a make-work project. It’s a natural, organic partnership between the business associations, the city, and The Mustard Seed.”