Project Trading Places
Project Trading Places (PTP) is a pilot program aimed at training post-incarcerated youth, aged 16 to 18, in bricklaying and construction. The program, undertaken in cooperation with a number of community partners, including the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and Learn to Earn, included skills-based training, academic training, psychosocial counseling and co-operative placements in the industry.
A community-based, hands-on training program that avoids the labeling effects of court involvement can go a long way in helping young offenders transition from incarceration to community living. Learn to Earn is an organization of industry, government and education partners dedicated to addressing the issue of skilled occupations for those considered “at-risk” by the social, educational and justice systems.
Program Trading Places received 124 student referrals, and admitted 83 students, during its two and a half year long operation (June 2004 to December 2006). Interest in the program by far exceeded expectations. Although most of the students were 16-17 years of age, the majority had only Grade 8 education.
More than three-quarters (67) of the students had special needs and had been formally identified by the school system as exceptional.
The program aimed to improve participants’ numeracy, literacy, employability and life skills, with the eventual goal of helping the students enter pre-apprenticeship training, obtain employment in the skilled trades, or return to regular school.
Students were assessed upon entering the program and in the majority of cases were found to be functioning at least 2 to 5 grade levels below the Grade 9 standard, as set by the Ministry of Education of Ontario.
All PTP students required extensive training in the areas of employability and life skills. They were assisted with everything from learning to set an alarm clock and making the right bus connections to ensuring their basic needs were met and access to medical care was obtained.
The majority of PTP students wanted to secure employment upon completion of the program, so the technical skills they developed during the program served them well. The masonry and carpentry programs were highly individualized to each student, and the comments from the co-op employers – all trained educators and tradespersons with excellent knowledge of their trades – were positive.
Program evaluation data was gathered by reviewing the participants’ Ontario Scholastic Records, intake information, testing, daily logs, and pre- and post-testing of literacy and numeracy skills. Structured interviews with 15 students focused on their perceptions of success in areas such as academic achievement, social adjustment, and attitudinal shift; community and education teams were also interviewed.
Of the 83 students who were admitted to the program, 32 were successful in the program and went on to obtain jobs in the trades, in other fields, or return to regular high school or college upon program completion. Of those, 25 students completed and met the outcomes of the cooperative education program, which had been individually designed for them. The number of interventions to gain this level of success was significant, however. Six of these students required staff intervention on some level on a daily basis for up to three weeks.
While virtually all of the students who completed the academic pre- and post-testing improved their academic skills by 1-2 (or more) grade levels, most students did not possess the academic skills required for entry into formal apprenticeship programs, even at program completion. So, the expected program outcome of preparing the students for apprenticeships was found to be unrealistic in most cases.
Consistently – and this was confirmed at every level of structured interviews – the staff was seen to be the most positive factor in making the program work for each and every student.
Cooperative education employers indicated that to better fulfill the potential of the program, employers should be more actively involved with the ongoing education and support of the student, rather than simply providing a job opportunity.
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