Social hiring initiative develops work skills with DTES residents

Anna Migicovsky co-founded the Knack program during her MBA studies at SFU

If you have ever hunted for a job, you know how hard it is to find one all too well. That struggle is 10 times greater for low-income individuals living in the poorest neighbourhoods in East Vancouver, many of whom are physically unable to work in full-time positions and are often dismissed by employers.

SFU MBA Candidate Anna Migicovsky is hoping to make that job search a little easier. She is the project coordinator of an employment platform called Knack, which aims to connect businesses with those who are looking for employment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Migicovsky developed the program along with two others as part of her internship at LEDLAB, a social innovation lab that is a branch of RADIUS SFU and EcoTrust Canada.

Knack was created as a community program in partnership with the Potluck Cafe Society, which has been providing good food and employment opportunities for the community for over 15 years. Migicovsky and her team also work with other nonprofit organizations within the Downtown Eastside, such as Union Gospel Mission, an organization that also provides career advising as part of the services it offers.

According to Migicovsky, around 7,000 people in the Downtown Eastside are currently collecting social assistance, and these individuals are not necessarily working. “The Downtown Eastside is currently very volunteer-focused, but these volunteers are actually doing a lot for the organizations [of which they are part],” explained Migicovsky. “We want to create more income-generating opportunities for these individuals. We’re trying to use the knowledge and wisdom that Potluck has in order to increase the number of employment opportunities.”

Knack focuses on educating employers about inclusive employment, and that people are coming from unstable backgrounds and might be unable to work 40-hour weeks. The program also offers several workshops to develop soft transferrable skills such as time management, teamwork, and conflict resolution, to name a few. Upon completing these workshops, participants earn digital badges that act as certifications of the skills they have developed. They are similar to badges that one would earn by being part of a Scouts Canada troop, and veer away from qualifications one might include on a traditional resumé.

Essentially, Knack wants to create a mutually beneficial relationship between employee and employer. “There is an untapped labour market right now that is about providing low-skill jobs at affordable rates. This program is not just about educating individuals, but also about understanding what the employer wants,” said Migicovsky. “It’ll increase quality of life for the individual and also create casual part-time work positions for the employer.”

But most importantly, what Migicovsky wants individuals to take away from the Knack program is a better quality of life. “Employment isn’t only for people who are healthy and stable,” Migicovsky said. “It is also a pillar of health.”

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