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GIVE 6IX: Overcoming Barriers to Employment

Written by Angie Peters, President & CEO of YSM

How many people pop to mind when you think of who helped you become who you are?

For me the big ones are my mom, piano teacher, Girl Guide leader, many of my teachers, my spiritual director, mentors in business and life, my supervising professor in my graduate studies, amazing friends . . . and the list goes on. All of these people shaped me and contributed to my success. I would not be who I am today without them.

Who are your people? When you were starting out, who were the people who gave you advice about your career, or connected you to others who helped you get a job?

The truth, for many of us, is that we’re in the position we are now because people in our community laid stepping stones and helped us along our journey. Where would we be if we didn’t have those people?


Many of our struggling neighbours don’t have such support networks. They’re trying to make it on their own while juggling other challenges like making rent or feeding their family. They find a job that gets them by, but it’s hard to move forward and advance when so much of your focus is on merely surviving.

Imagine you are isolated, without family or friends to help you get by. Imagine not having a stable or safe home, which means you don’t sleep long enough or well enough so you are unhealthy and exhausted every day. Imagine you can’t afford enough food, or enough healthy food, so you feel hungry and lethargic all the time and face health challenges as a result.

How would you find the energy to make it to school or work on time in the morning? How would you find the motivation to study or work towards a career you would enjoy rather than one that merely keeps your family fed? How would you pull yourself out of poverty?


  • An average Torontonian working full time at minimum wage has $7.83 daily to spend on everything they need after they pay their rent and transit. That’s just $7.83 to pay for food, medicine, clothing, and everything else they need on any given day (1).
  • Ontario’s unemployment rate has trended downwards since the last recession, reaching 5.2% in January 2020, before it rose sharply due to COVID-19. As of September 2020, our province’s unemployment rate is 9.5% (2).
  • Canada’s Suicide Prevention Service saw a 62% increase in direct interventions regarding suicide attempts during the pandemic, with one of the top risk factors being unemployment or loss of income (3).
  • Two-thirds of unemployed residents in Toronto do not have access to transit, making it far harder for them to find jobs (4).
  •  Food Bank recipients in Toronto spend 74% of their income on rent and utilities leaving very little for them to procure other necessities. The median income for this population is $806 per month and has not increased since last year (5).
  • Those in the bottom 25% of hourly earners (making less than $17.48 per hour) have seen their total work hours reduced by 30% during the pandemic, while those in the top 25% (making more than $36.07 per hour) have seen their total work hours increased by 21% (6).


Do you have a job or have you ever had a job? Do you know people in your industry or network? Have you ever helped develop a young person’s capacity to get a job?

I’m guessing almost everyone can answer yes to one of those questions, and if you can – you have the ability to help your neighbours find meaningful career paths.

Think about what it takes to get a job:

two women talking over coffee

Identify what you want to do: Are you the kind of person who would absolutely love to mentor someone who is trying to figure out what they want to do and identify a path to get there?

Learn the skills and qualifications necessary for that career: Could you help someone advance their English language skills to support them becoming employed in Canada? Could you help someone understand your industry and how to access an entry-level job in it, or to progress toward their ultimate job?

Work part-time or volunteer during your training to build a network: What about your network? Could you help someone establish a volunteer or part-time role to help them build their experience and network?

Find that opportunity that pays enough to live on through a network or friend and secure it with good references from your volunteer or part-time work: Can you help with resume building or interview skills?

Which of these things could you offer to someone?

Continue your GIVE 6IX learning journey:

Further reading: GIVE 6IX: Bystanders No MoreOvercoming the Health BarrierOvercoming the Affordable Day Care Shortage and Overcoming the Barrier of Isolation. Subscribe below to get the next article directly to your inbox.

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  1. Daily Bread Food Bank, Who’s Hungry 2020 Report
  2. Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, September 2020
  3. Mental Health Commission of Canada, COVID-19 and Suicide: Potential Implications and Opportunities to Influence Trends in Canada

  4. Toronto Foundation, Vital Signs

  5. Daily Bread Food Bank, Who’s Hungry 2019 Report

  6. Toronto Foundation, Toronto Fallout Report