Mohawk College, Ontario Works connecting students with local employers

A group of students have successfully completed a pilot pharmacy assistant training program that was created through a partnership between City School, Mohawk College's School of Health and Ontario Works. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

A group of Hamiltonians now has the opportunity to follow a path of employment or full-time education, thanks to a pilot program through Mohawk College’s City School initiative.

The 16-week pilot wrapped up on Friday with a certificate presentation ceremony for students who successfully completed a pharmacy assistant training program through a partnership between City School, Mohawk College’s School of Health, and Ontario Works.

Emily Ecker, associate dean of community partnerships and learning at Mohawk College, said the program was created in direct response to a need identified by local pharmacists.

“It was kind of a nice three-way partnership where we could develop the skills and work with local employers to identify what their needs are,” said Ecker, “and develop this program that helps bridge that gap and help support and identify the needs of the employers and how to help them.”

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Kerry Lubrick, Ontario Works administrator with the city of Hamilton, said the health sector is one of the biggest employers in the city right now and that those employers are “desperate for people.”

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“So it made sense at this point to get together with Mohawk to create this program because it was an innovation,” said Lubrick. “And this is where the great people at Mohawk’s City School came into place, because they, together with us at Ontario Works, were able to put together and teach a curriculum in a non-judgmental way that met the needs of the people.”

The 13 students who completed the pilot program received training and workplace experience as community pharmacy assistants, and two students already have jobs lined up.

Michelle Lee Haw is one of those students. She’ll be starting work at a pharmacy in downtown Hamilton next week.

“It’s been difficult for me because I’ve had to switch jobs,” said Lee Haw. “So making that switch was a little bit difficult and nervewracking, but I persevered and went through it, and passed.”

She said the program helped give her confidence and the necessary skills to make the transition to a new career path.

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“I really came out of my shell during this course, from all the wonderful people that I’ve met.”

Ecker said City School’s mandate is all about making education more accessible to people like Lee Haw and her fellow classmates.

“So when you see that impact on the students, you can’t help but think, ‘We need to do this again’,” said Ecker, adding that they’re looking at repeating the pharmacy assistant program and possibly creating similar programs for different jobs that are in high demand in Hamilton.

“Given that this pilot was so successful, we will definitely be doing it again.”

City School, which provides free college-level training for lower-income residents and people with other barriers to education, has been steadily expanding since it began in 2015.

The initiative now includes its starting location at the Eva Rothwell Centre and a base at the Hamilton Public Library, as well as a mobile classroom and pop-up locations. It’s also a major part of Challenge 2025, which is Mohawk College’s five-year plan to tackle poverty in Hamilton through education.

This fall, City School will be offering an “Introduction to Construction for Women” course and a “Coding Bootcamp”, as well as a number of other courses.


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