Niki landed a day job as a Program Coordinator for the Prince Albert YMCA’s Tourism Career for Youth at Risk program. From the basement office of an old YWCA – owned store, she fires up a 10 year old computer to chart out strategies that help at risk kids gain a taste of real independence, breaking a cycle of welfare that often goes back three generations.
Niki took the Tourism Careers for Youth program and adapted it to meet the needs of her participants -- 18-29 year olds with no previous work experience. The TYC program, now commonly known as the Ready to Work (RTW) program, is a national youth internship program, which helps to prepare people for jobs in the tourism industry. The program follows emerit training, as put forward by Tourism HR Canada and its provincial and territorial partners. It features a mix of classroom and on-the-job training, which provides people with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and experience necessary for long-term stable employment in tourism – one of Canada’s fastest growing industries.
“We partnered with the tourism industry through the Saskatchewan Tourism Education Council,” Niki explains, “and we were lucky to get a great facilitator, Dan Gottell – a rare talent who knows how to communicate with at-risk youth. Many of these youth have since been able to obtain and maintain jobs in the tourism industry.”
Today, a hundred or so at-risk kids scramble for one of the fourteen spots on Niki’s latest training program. Its instructors are sensitive to the needs of ‘at risk’ learners as most of the students in her programs are kinesthetic learners who learn best by doing. For them, obtaining a Certificate of achievement has a big impact. “You give somebody who’s never had formal recognition in their life a certificate and they start to feel they really could be employed. Their confidence in themselves and in their abilities flourishes.”
Niki sees her programs as a second chance for people who never had a first one. Her ‘clean start’ approach often begins with a trip to the courthouse to clear up outstanding offences and fines then moves to focus on building life skills. The end result? “If you get four or five people who find permanent work and break the cycle of welfare – maybe for the first time in their family’s history – that’s something.”
Though Niki downplays any connection between the world of comedy and the world of at risk youth, she says that one stage tradition has made its way into her classrooms. “We celebrate like crazy! Every success gets a thunderous round of applause.” As a result, at risk kids in Canada’s North are learning to take a serious look at their potential from someone who knows how to laugh at life.
Niki Melchert, Program Coordinator – Ready to Work for Youth at Risk, Prince Albert YWCA, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan