By Evan Radford

YERP gives its clients reason to chirp.

That’s according to Cindy Leggott, an employment facilitator who works with a Regina-based program that aims to connect young people with jobs, especially if they’re having a tough go of finding work.

Dubbed the Youth Employment Readiness Program (YERP), it works out of the Regina Work Preparation Centre, a non-profit that’s been in the city for 40-plus years.

“Most people I get into the program, they’ve struggled a long time before they hit the ‘I guess I need help button.’ So it’s even convincing them that they can change things in a helpful way,” Leggott said.

The work centre received new funding in April from Service Canada’s Skills Link program: more than $554,000, which should last until October 2017.

That plus a new, large space has the non-profit starting a second round of its seven week course.

A course involves three weeks of in-classroom instruction and then four weeks at a job; participants are paid minimum wage six hours per day for the entire course.

A lot of employers will approach participants with job offers once they’ve finished the program, Leggott said.

“I was just getting tired of not doing much with my life, you know? I just wanted to start doing something productive, something that will teach me valuable skills,” Elijah Bigknife said of YERP.

He’s one of the participants who started YERP’s second round of courses on Jun. 20.

“I feel like it’s really something that’s going to open more opportunities and more doors for me in the future,” Bigknife said.

Reflecting on Leggott’s work, the 18-year-old noted that she goes beyond the role of simply finding him and his peers jobs. “I feel like she’s here to guide us.”

According to its own numbers, the centre says 4,500 people sought help from its services in fiscal 2015-16.

Data from Statistics Canada shows what that number looks like provincially: between May 2015 and May this year, 4,200 less people aged 15-24 had jobs in Saskatchewan. That represents a 4.9 per cent drop in youth employment.

By comparison, Alberta saw a larger 10.2 per cent drop in its youth employment, while Manitoba saw a smaller decrease of 1.5 per cent.

In Regina, YERP’s target age group is 16-29.  Many of its participants are referrals from the Ministry of Social Services, while others come from the Ministry of Justice and from Service Canada, Leggott said.

The work centre’s executive director Chris Bailey noted that approximately 60 per cent of clients are First Nation or Métis; one of its focal points is building relationships with tribal councils and First Nation communities, Bailey said.

Such work seems all the more important amid unemployment and lack of communal support as among the reasons young aboriginal people join gangs.

VICE News and University of Alberta sociology professor Jana Grekul have each looked at the issue.

Hence YERP, a program that builds a sense of community and support for its participants, according to Bigknife.

“I really enjoy meeting all these new people, and just finding out there are good people out there who are like you, who are goal-orientated. It’s really nice to find some people who are out there with the same vision as you,” he said.

Bigknife’s group seems to have others like him; Colton Labelle, who’s worked construction in the past, hopes to eventually start his own business, probably in stucco, just like his brother.

The 17-year-old said he wants to be more engaged in his community, too.

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