Ready for Retail participants build confidence and skills for future
By Darren Lum
You can see confidence in the face of Matthew Parker of Haliburton as he stands at the cash register helping check-out a customer at the Thrift Warehouse.
Parker, one of eight participants in SIRCH’s Ready for Retail program, has developed confidence as he learned skills with in-class and on-the-job training at the warehouse and the local library, including certification training to prepare for employment in the retail industry.
“It’s been a really good experience,” he said.
The training program started on Jan. 28 and ends May 13. This is the second year for the program. It started last year as a pilot program.
Parker said the things he is learning will help lay the foundation for his aspiration to run his own computer business. Before he realizes that dream, he needs a job to help fund his college education in computer repair.
The program’s co-ordinator Dianne Woodcock smiles as she watches Parker work. She has been impressed by his transformation during the program.
“He was really nervous when he started, I have to say. He was apprehensive. He was worried whether he would fit in with the group. Is it going to be an accepting [group]?” she said. “[Now the change has been] unbelievable. He’s such a massive contributor ... making everyone else feel good. He cares a lot about everybody and his confidence ... he was afraid of cash and was terrified. Now he’s great on it.”
His organizational skills have also seen marked improvement.
Parker, 26, is a Haliburton Highlands Secondary School alumnus and the youngest in the program’s group, which ranges from 26 to 64.
“I love that. It really creates an interesting dynamic,” Woodcock said. “This group of people they’ve all found that coming together under these circumstances: ... they never would have met each other under any other circumstances and it’s been ... I don’t know if it’s the platform? This group, like last year’s group, they just bond so well. It’s an intimate way to learn and they just gel,” she said.
The support for one another in the group has been special, she said.
“When you learn in a space that is very supportive not just from our teaching, but their classmates. That speaks volumes in terms of how they are going to move forward, I think,” she said. “It’s the combination of the two.”
This happens not only working together while at Thrift Warehouse, but also in how they help one another.
The on-the-job training is split between two sites in the Highlands. Tuesdays, participants are at the 8,000-square-foot Thrift Warehouse learning how to take inventory, account for donations, interact with customers, helping them and cashing them out using a cash register.
“Here we can control what they’re learning. You know spend some time on cash and spend some time on the bay and we rotate that. Being out with an actual business is a little bit more of a true practical training. They’re in the throes of wherever they may end up working. It’s a long training program. It’s very valuable,” she said.
The rest of the week is available to program participants so they can receive on-the-job training at participating retailers such as Country Pickin’s, Haliburton County Public Library, Cindy’s, Home Hardware, Country Rose, Haliburton Foodland and Wilberforce Foodland. Trainees spend four hours a week at the Thrift Warehouse and 3.5 hours at their second placement.
Woodcock said there was a consultation with the participants about the places they’d like to work.
This led to co-ordination with various businesses, who joined the program and provided on-the-job training sites.
Representatives from SIRCH, City of Kawartha Lakes, the John Howard Society, and Fleming College are facilitating the lessons. Every Monday there is in-class training held either at SIRCH Central on Victoria Street or at the Haliburton Highlands Museum.
The participants earn certifications (customer service excellence, first aid/CPR and WHMIS, including smart serve certification, if required).
There are a few new additions to the program. This year included one day of hospitality customer service excellence training, which was developed by the Ontario Tourism Education Committee provided by the Victoria County Career Services. Many employers recognize this training.
Some of the in-class training was done with the participants of SIRCH’s Cook it Up program.
“They are two different groups with two different goals, but they come together to learn sort of the basics of no matter what you’re going to be doing,” she said.
Both groups benefit from learning about being able to provide customer service and team building skills.
Another new aspect to this year’s program is the addition of participating businesses, who enabled the additional job placements.
“The biggest asset is we appealed to the business community to allow our participants to do some placement time. I think everybody saw that as a great addition,” she said.
Woodcock adds the Business Development Bank is scheduled to come to speak with the participants about finance management and how to start and operate a business.
This group has already asked if there could have been more placement time.
“I see that as a positive comment. It means that they’re growing ... let’s bring it on,” she said.