by Heidi Riley
A new program underway at The PEI Farm Centre will help Island youth prepare for employment in the era of climate change.
“The program is designed to help Island youth increase their awareness of climate change and enhance their skills to work in the emerging green economy and social enterprises,” says Phil Ferraro, Farm Centre CEO. A social enterprise is a business that uses some or all of its profits to address social issues and create positive community change.
“This made-in-Atlantic Canada program will prepare young people for jobs that emerge from the climate crisis that is facing everyone,” says Phil. “It will serve as a model for the entire eastern coastal region, with transferable lessons to other regions as well.”
The program is called Engaging Youth in the Era of Climate Change, and runs during the fall and winter of 2019-20. Twenty youth with barriers to employment are participating. The program combines 20 weeks of classroom studies and experiential learning activities with a minimum of six weeks of hands-on work placements with businesses or organizations that work to reduce or adapt to the impact of climate change and related issues.
“Recent data indicate that Prince Edward Island has some of the highest unemployment and food insecurity rates in the country,” says Dr. Virginia McGowan, one of the project leads. “Being an island, we are already beginning to experience impacts from climate change.
“Many Island youth face significant barriers to employment,” says Virginia. “They are also one of the most vulnerable segments of our population. Recent studies tell us they will likely experience most severely the dire consequences of the impending climate crisis.”
Project staff and community partners are coaching participants in job-related skills and attitudes, and mentoring them to become confident in their decision making. Participants will be supported in finding or creating employment that is not just a living wage but a real opportunity to thrive, address climate change, and contribute to the health and well-being of their communities. Some will choose to return to school to obtain the skills and knowledge they will need.
“All involved in this project are confident that it will help youth with barriers to employment and introduce them to sustainability issues and new and emerging opportunities and networks,” says Phil.
“They are learning about local businesses which use local or environmentally friendly products, and social enterprises that seek to maximize their benefits to society and the environment. What they are learning could help to ‘green’ any business, such as a construction or a clothing company, the transportation sector, or the food system.
“We have participants interested in green building, so they may connect with local businesses that focus on ecological design and construction, and may go on to learn carpentry skills and take that first step to learn how to become employed as a green builder. We also have participants involved in health and horticulture whose business ideas focus on active living and food security.”
Some comments from participants
Brandi Jadis: “I previously worked with PEI Energy Efficiency, helping homeowners conserve heat by caulking around windows and testing airflow through the house. I worked with a mentor, and I learned a lot from him. When I heard about this program which engages youth about climate change, I was pretty interested.”
Jacklyn Laybolt: “I have a small child, and I was doing shiftwork before. The hours in this program are much better for family life, and some of my expenses are subsidized. I hope to learn a lot more about the workforce, and I am interested in the subjects covered in the program, such as growing your own food.”
Hayley Brehio: “I’m an RN from Georgia, and when I moved to PEI, I found it would be difficult to pursue nursing in Canada. With this program, I’ve found my passion: becoming an entrepreneur by starting my own business venture, Zen and Meow!”
Joseph Macgillivray: “I was a flagger and worked on construction, and I am an advocate for the climate crisis. It would be great to find a better career, and this program is very supportive. This program will have a social media aspect, and I am interested in podcasting and making climate change cool.”
Shannon MacEwen: “I found out about this program through Mi’kmaq Confederacy. I love that is about PEI, and I am interested in the idea of making a podcast about climate change, which is something we will learn about through this program. We are going to have a social media platform to draw youth in.”
Devin Shephard: “I have always struggled with what I want to do for the rest of my life. This program helps explore what the job options are, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and meeting new people. I am interested in climate change, but I am not very knowledgeable, so this is a great learning opportunity.”
Lacey Koughan: “I have a company called 24 Strong which empowers young women through fitness, dance, and confidence building programs. My goal has always been to create a social enterprise. This program gives me the opportunity to learn more about social enterprise and spend more time developing my company. I am learning so much.”
A new cohort of the program will start in May or June, 2020. For more information, call Phil Ferraro at 902-892-3419.
This project is a collaborative effort among The Farm Centre, PEI ADAPT Council, and The Institute for Bioregional Studies. A number of community partners are lending support, including The PEI Council of People with Disabilities, The Startup Zone, Gifts From the Heart, and others.