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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Getting job hunters back in the game

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun


Last spring, Marina Pinto found herself feeling the way many job hunters do: alone, depressed and unsure of where to begin.
MARINA PINTO
Success story


Seeking to build on her career in television production, the Toronto resident visited several employment agencies in the city, but found little success. Then a friend told her about her new job at the St. Clair Employment Resource Centre, a government-funded career centre run by Humber College. She encouraged Pinto to stop by the office at 1345 St. Clair Ave. W.

On her first visit, Pinto met with one of the centre's six employment counsellors, who promptly dissected her resume and suggested several ways to improve it.

"He looked at the work experience on my resume and said that we could make three or four separate resumes out of it," says Pinto, 42. "I also got help with my cover letter, and for the first time I was getting significant replies to my job applications."

At least two days a week for two and a half months, she frequented the centre to take advantage of a number of resources, all free, including workshops on the hidden job market, searching for jobs online and networking; high-speed Internet; a library stocked with job-search publications; free photocopying, faxing, printing, scanning and long distance calling (for work purpose), and more.

However, what proved to be most valuable, Pinto says, was the chance to form a motivating network of support.

"Sometimes it's tempting to stay home and job search on your computer," Pinto says. "But when you're doing something where you feel vulnerable, you need to be around people doing the same thing."

On the brink

It's a philosophy that Gordana Kokorovic supports wholeheartedly. As co-ordinator of the centre, Kokorovic has seen many job hunters on the brink of giving up, until they spend some time with the centre's counsellors.

"We give them technical advice, but we also motivate them to keep going," Kokorovic says. "They make us part of their support system."

The centre opened six years ago with the support of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), and about 30,000 job seekers walk through its doors each year. Most clients range in age from 30 to 44 and have found themselves suddenly laid off and facing a very competitive job market.

They are able to get a better idea of the employment climate, and what employers are looking for, through twice-monthly speaker presentations delivered by representatives from various industries. Past presentation themes have included: opportunities in the financial sector, by Accountemps; self-employment tips, by the York Business Opportunities Centre; and gaining experience through volunteering, by the Volunteer Centre of Toronto.

Employment counsellors at the St. Clair centre emphasize to clients the need to continue to update their skills, network, and especially, hone their interpersonal skills, which Kokorovic says can make all the difference in today's job market.

"Research shows that employers are increasingly looking for interpersonal skills. If you lack 20% of the required technical skills, your interpersonal skills might tip the scales," she says.

While the centre doesn't track success rates, Kokorovic says quarterly surveys reveal that most clients end up finding work through the centre's support.

Marina Pinto is among those who've had success. This August she landed a job as a visual researcher, which lets her use her TV experience, the research skills she gained from completing a PhD in archaeology, negotiating skills and more.

"I love looking at footage and telling stories through pictures," she says. "Also,

a career change is quite difficult, but this job is a confirmation for me that my skills are really solid. It has given me a lot of confidence."

For more information on the St. Clair Employment Resource Centre, visit www.erc.humber.ca.



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