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Success of City School program crucial to Mohawk College’s workforce recovery plan

A five-year workforce recovery plan from Mohawk College is about halfway through its mandate - and has already met two of its three major goals. Lisa Polewski / Global News

Mohawk College in Hamilton has already met most of its main goals of its five-year workforce recovery plan, largely thanks to the success of its City School program.

Challenge 2025 was launched in 2019 as an initiative to tackle poverty, under-education, labour shortages, underemployment and unemployment in the Hamilton area and beyond.

It aimed to build on the City School model, which began in 2015 and has been delivering free college education and workforce training to underprivileged or marginalized people who wouldn’t normally seek postsecondary education.

Since then, Challenge 2025 has met two of its three major goals: it’s engaged with more than 100 employers and worked with them to find work for people who have gone through City School, and it’s also expanded the program to other Canadian colleges through an alliance with Vancouver Community College, Red River College Polytech in Winnipeg and Nova Scotia Community College.

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Jim Vanderveken, dean for Mohawk’s Centre of Community Partnerships and Experiential Learning which runs City School, said they’ve been able to share best practices about employer and community engagement through this alliance and the hope is that it can grow even bigger.

“We’re just at the cusp of beginning to consider how we can think about other colleges who want to be involved, and we’ve already had a number of other colleges from Alberta, over to the East Coast, New Brunswick … coming forward and asking us about how they can benefit or how they can be a part of this alliance that we’ve built. So it’s an exciting time.”

Currently in Hamilton there are permanent City School sites at the Eva Rothwell Centre and the central branch of the Hamilton Public Library. There are also two mobile classrooms that go to different neighbourhoods to offer classes, as well as occasional ‘pop-up’ locations based on where there’s a need in the community.

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Not only did City School survive the pandemic, Vanderveken said it “thrived” because hybrid learning allowed them to reach more people – a total of 2,500 out of a five-year target of 4,000.

That included people from outside of Hamilton, including the Greater Golden Horseshoe and Brant and Haldimand-Norfolk counties.

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Vanderveken said employers also began to really see the benefit of working with City School to build their workforce.

“They knew immediately that they were still faced with acute challenges in terms of talent acquisition and talent retention. They recognized that by partnering with the college and its City School endeavors, there could be a direct link, a direct corridor between the individuals that we were serving – what we sometimes referred to as a latent potential workforce in the community – and the jobs that they had available.”

Now that Challenge 2025 has been as successful as it has, Mohawk is announcing that it’s shifting to a more community-driven structure of leadership, helmed by Khadija Hamidu, executive director of Workforce Planning Hamilton, and Sara Gill, executive director of Hamilton’s Adult Basic Education Association.

Its new priorities will focus on engaging even further with employers and developing intensive learner supports, including:

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  • supporting the development of a strategy to offer micro-credential for participants
  • coordinating and implementing specific education and training activities designed to engage those in Ontario Works and ODSP programs
  • executing programs through the newly established Rapid Skills Training Lab at Mohawk’s Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation
  • supporting the development, coordination and implementation of an Indigenous-led strategy focused on workforce opportunity and community prosperity

The initiative will also provide local employers with resources on equity, diversity, and inclusion and up-to-date labour market information.

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