Woman in hard hat smilingWhen oil prices collapsed last year, the Canadian economy took a hit after a slow recovery from the 2008 recession. In Alberta, one of the hardest-hit provinces, some sectors have seen rounds of layoffs and self-employment has risen.

So, it may come as no surprise that community organizations such as Momentum, in Calgary, and Women Building Futures, in Edmonton, have been seeing greater demand for their economic development programs.

Momentum offers self-employment training for women looking to launch a small business or improve their business plan. Women Building Futures helps unemployed and underemployed women prepare for a successful career in the skilled trades. Both are grantees of the Canadian Women’s Foundation over a five-year period, developing resilient programs that are adaptive to market conditions and participants’ needs.

Diversifying and listening to employer feedback

Offering an array of courses ranging from construction to plumbing, Women Building Futures is partnered with more than 250 employers and has a 90 percent placement rate within 6 months of graduation. Jacqueline Andersen, employer services manager at Women Building Futures, says the high placement rate hasn’t changed over the past year because of a strong focus on job matching.

“We have industry partners that group together to partner on a program, so they sponsor it with the intent of interviewing and hiring out of the program,” she says.

“We’ve been focusing on diversifying when it comes to employers and placement, and letting industry drive our programs. That’s where our heavy haul operator program has come from, and we have implemented a new class 3 driver training program this year, because we’ve certainly seen a demand out there.”

For 2016, Women Building Futures is continuing to develop programs based on employer feedback on where employment gaps exist. Because heating and air conditioning (HVAC) and sheet metal installation haven’t been greatly impacted by oil prices, a new program focusing on those areas is in the works.

Filling gaps in self-employment training

At Momentum, women receive business coaching and networking opportunities, but they also develop transferable skills that could lend themselves to future employment, should they need another source of income.

Two years ago, when government funding for several full-time self-employment training programs was cancelled, Momentum became one of a handful of organizations specializing in this area because of its mandate to help vulnerable groups. Momentum has launched a women’s centred start-up program that hones in on specific barriers that women face in a business environment.

“I’ve been in this work long enough now to know that vulnerable people are choosing self-employment because there are no other options,” says Erin Melnychuk, business development manager at Momentum.

“At the end of the day women want a meaningful job, and when there isn’t one in front of them they create their own. They develop literacy, and then that prospect may be in front of them.”

Find out more about our efforts to end poverty and support women in skilled trades, self-employment and social purpose enterprises.