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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Youth Force
OYAP: How sweet it is

By Aunie Edwards
Special to The Toronto Sun

Once in a while a truly brilliant idea comes along -- and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) is one of them. Sponsored by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, implemented by school boards and enabled by community-minded businesses, OYAP has helped countless young students realize their professional dreams without accumulating unmanageable debt.
At his placement at Ruwan's Cake Art, OYAP student Jesse Karrandjas, left, learns the basics of baking from supervisor Ruwan Jayakody.

"OYAP is probably the best initiative that's ever come down from the ministry," Bill Brown says. And he would know. As head of co-op education at Bendale Business and Technical Institute, Brown has watched OYAP improve the odds for many of his students.

And Jesse Karrandjas, one of OYAP's benefactors, would agree. Karrandjas is a Grade 11 co-op student and full-time baker's apprentice at Ruwan's Cake Art.

"As a member of OYAP, Jesse's hours and learned skills will be applied to his apprenticeship -- he's a student with a future that he can see," Brown says.

Karrandjas is fully aware of the advantages.

"Ruwan's Cake Art is giving me valuable experience," Karrandjas says. "I'm baking pies, tarts, cookies and cakes -- all right from scratch."

Ruwan's Cake Art is a busy, high-end bakery that caters to such clientele as the Royal York and Sheraton hotels. Karrandjas is under the direct supervision of Ruwan Jayakody, owner of the operation. "Jesse's a hard worker," Jayakody says. "He's doing well and I think he has a good future."

Karrandjas did not, in fact, enter his apprenticeship without experience. "Jesse's in his third year of baking at Bendale B.T.I.," says Brown. "Our students participate in half a day of technical learning -- in Jesse's case, that's baking. The other half day is devoted to academic learning."

Obviously, this structure changes when the student is involved in an apprenticeship. After a one week pre-placement course, Karrandjas began a full-time job placement at Ruwan's Cake Art.

"Jesse must return to the classroom every two weeks for 'integration days'," Brown says. "We assimilate what the kids are learning on the job and we supply a road map of sorts -- what should be appreciated about their placement, what they should expect and what should be expected of them -- it's really career building skills."

During his placement, Karrandjas is also required to complete several related assignments. And he meets his co-op teacher at least once a week. "These meetings are as much for support as anything else. We keep the kids connected to their peer groups and help them overcome any difficulties that arise," Brown says.

To further monitor Karrandjas' progress, his supervisor submits a regular report.

"I fill out an itemized sheet for Jesse every week -- it describes what he's learning and how he's doing," Jayakody says.

Says Brown, "Ruwan has been an excellent resource for several years. He always faces the risk that one of our students won't work out, but he commits his time and talent year after year. He's a really good guy and he runs a great apprenticeship."

Karrandjas will continue at Ruwan's until Nov. 2. He will then return to school and his regular schedule. And he will do so with marketable job experience and an outstanding professional connection.

"These placements are an incredible networking tool -- a successful apprentice gains friends in the business that can give him work or personal referrals. It's a great big foot in the door," Brown says.

When Karrandjas graduates high school, Brown hopes he will continue his education at George Brown College. And happily, OYAP will subsidize his costs. When business, education and government shaped the co-operative engine that is the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program, a truly inspired idea was born. And Jesse Karrandjas is a perfect example of its brilliance.

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