Monday, April 02, 2007

Times Change

There comes a time in every freelancer’s life when they say “enough”. Sure, the advantages of freelancing are many -- the 10 second commute to the home office, being able to concentrate without interruption, the freedom to sing when the urge strikes. The downside is the office politics. I can be cruel to myself. There are days when I take myself out for lunch and find it impossible to make small talk. Complaints to the boss fall on deaf ears. Sometimes it gets really bad, when I can hardly stand my own shallow breathing. The slight rise and fall of my chest, ugh, make it stop.

One day while trolling the internet to avoid writing, I stumbled onto the Times Change Women’s Employment Service website (or as I lovingly call it, the Shit Happens Employment Service). Times Change offers career counselling, job search workshops and computer workshops for women who by choice or necessity are in the market for new employment opportunities. These services are all offered free of charge, thanks to funding from the federal and provincial governments, as well as the United Way and the Trillium Foundation. The word “free” motivated me enough to check out their office on the 17th floor at 365 Bloor St. E. It’s been years since I’ve had to circulate my resume and I figured a little help gratis couldn’t hurt.

I’m a little amazed by my own change of heart. Ten years ago the thought of participating in anything female exclusive would have been anathema. I balked at doing all female standup shows, thinking the concept was unnecessary and coddling. Now, having being broken and humbled on a few occasions, I have changed.

I went to Times Change, over the federally run Employment Resources Centre, because I wanted to be in a nurturing environment. There – I said it.

“Times Change is a less intimidating and more supportive atmosphere,” says Julie Warrington, TC’s intake and outreach coordinator. “We may be a not-for-profit service, but we are as every bit professional as other employment centres."

The only catch for women who want to use TC is that they either have to be unemployed or working no more than 20 hours per week (or the feast or famine type like me). However, the resource centre, an up to date library of everything you ever wanted to know about the working world, but were too apathetic to ask, is available to anyone. It’s a cornucopia of labour market data, career tomes and occupational workbooks – everything I’ve ignored for 20 years.

Julie, a university educated former massage therapist, was once a client of Times Change herself. “We have a huge range of clients, from women with high school educations to those with Masters Degrees. New immigrants and refugees come to us because we make them feel comfortable. Our goal is to inspire women and give them the confidence they need to find work. Times Change helped me chose a different career.”

I participated in the Job Search Workshop, a thorough crash course in how to identify and pursue job opportunities. Self-marketing (never my strong suit) was a key component. I learned that there are different resume formats and that potential employers actually look at these things. In my workshop there was another freelance writer, two newly arrived immigrants and a woman who had been out of the workforce for ten years. By the end of the four half days, I had a better head for presentation skills and a deeper appreciation for the immigrant experience.

“We need a women’s employment centre because of the reproductive aspect,” says Holly KirkConnell, one of TC’s employment counsellors. “Women leave the work force more often. We have children. We are still the primary caregivers. I remember the days when there was no maternity leave. Paid maternity leave only came about in the late 1970s. That’s not so long ago. After using our services, 70% of our clients are either employed, self employed or have returned to school.”

TC’s approach toward employment is wholistic. For instance, its career planning workshops aren’t based on assessment testing. Rather, the workshop draws upon the personal stories of each woman to reveal their dreams and aspirations and then gives them the tools to pursue those dreams. Without dreams, what are we?

Go to the website for more information.
Now what do I do with this resume thing?

1 comment:

Dom Ali said...

Nice to see your blog, Carolyn! I sent you fan mail more than 10 years ago when you were a columnist at EYE Weekly. I haven't lived in Toronto for some time, so it's great to read your stuff again.