by Rebecca Beuschel, Literacy Quesnel Society
Learning Resources for New Paths to Success in Resource-based Community
In the summer of 1996, I caught my first glimpse of Quesnel from the window of a Greyhound bus. I was two-thirds of the way through my year-long work and travel visa and was doing what many Australians under the age of 30 do, wandering from seasonal job to seasonal job while exploring a foreign land. Quesnel did not strike me as particularly special, but was a necessary stop because it was the only way I could reach my actual destination of Bowron Lake. As I sat in the passenger seat of my new employer’s truck and drove along highway 26, I became mesmerized very quickly by the stunning scenery all around me. It was so vastly different from what I had already seen in Canada and it was beautiful. Twenty-five years later, Quesnel is my hometown. It is where I have shopped, voted, played, worked, volunteered, raised kids and animals, cemented friendships, and been happily married for half my life.
Working in the literacy field is my chosen path. It has inspired and frustrated and fulfilled me in thousands of ways. Being involved with the Displaced Workers Project has given me time to reflect on what it means to be displaced from the workforce. The knee-jerk-reaction image is one of a person who has lost their job due to downsizing, or limited production, or lack of funding, or curtailment of resources, and who then seeks employment in the traditional or typical methods of scrolling through ads and responding to relevant ones. But working on this project has taught me there are diverse approaches to re-entering the workforce. Here are two stories of resilience, perseverance, and success. All words in quotation marks are the direct words of our case study participants (we have called them Case A and Case B).
CASE STUDY A
Case A is a hard-working, determined, self-driven entrepreneur. A few years ago, he was working at a fast-food restaurant and feeling dissatisfied with his outlook. He did not want to be working in that environment into his 40s and 50s. He decided to make a drastic change. Rather than go and job seek for what was already being advertised, he decided to start a business of his own. He knew the rural community he lived in did not have regular, reliable access to garbage disposal services, so he decided to launch his own business.
Case A faced several barriers. He was not a “good student.” He did not do particularly well in school. He was not a “natural” reader. He had difficulty comprehending from seeing the words alone. But he understood how things worked and the sequence of actions to reach a goal. He thought about what he wanted to do and what would give him satisfaction and he came up with a plan. He sought help from WorkBC employment counsellors and the Community Futures loans manager, and essential skills support from Literacy Quesnel Society.
For his business idea to come to fruition, he needed to obtain his Class 3 driver’s license. He studied the workbook and sat the learner’s test. And he failed. He did it again and he failed. He sought help from a tutor at Literacy Quesnel and together they worked through each question at a pace conducive to his individual learning style. The two of them took apart each question so that he understood what the question was asking, so that he could answer it from different perspectives. He sat the test several more times, over a period of 18 months, before he passed. Once he was an ‘L’ driver, he registered for lessons. Once the instructor felt he was ready, he booked a time for his test. He failed it. Due to scheduling conflicts, he had to drive over 400 kms to the location of the next available testing site. His dad went with him as his support person and fellow driver. Again, he failed the test. He rebooked and a few months later his dad went with him again, this time driving the 400 kms + in wintery conditions. He never lost sight of his end goal. He made good use of his support network: his family, his friends, his tutor, and his WorkBC employment counsellor. His mom helped him organize appointments, often adjusting her schedule so he could use her car to get forth and back. Each time he failed, he would smile and say, “I’ll get there one of these days,” and he did. With his license in hand, he went back to Community Futures and pursued his dream of launching his own business.
Case A’s company is now flourishing. Thinking outside the proverbial box, he was able to read the market, apply for permits to operate in areas of the region that were not being served, and he adjusted the pick-up process to make it easier for people with accessibility issues to leave their garbage out for him. He developed a regular schedule for customers and was always on time. This is important to him still; he strives to provide reliable, punctual service. He gave his customers the option to pay by cheque or by e-transfer. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, his clientele doubled as people looked for ways to access garbage disposal service with minimal physical contact. Case A is currently buying his third truck and business is booming.
CASE STUDY B
Case B’s story provides a unique perspective on what it means to be a working person. Three years ago, Case B “fired” his employer. His decision to take this action was years in the making.
Case B has varied work experience. Mostly, he has worked in security, in IT and as a driver. He worked for years in an Information Technology department. During a sale and a subsequent restructuring of the company, many people lost their jobs. Case B was one of the people shuffled over to the newly restructured company. During the transition phase, when safety plans and policies were being discussed, he started asking questions, mostly about safety protocols. He describes himself as “not one to sit back and wait to see what happens.” Sometimes his questions are uncomfortable, he thinks, but he asks them anyway. He was let go shortly after he asked too many questions in a meeting with the “new” crew. He received a severance package, but even with a payout, he asked himself the question, “Personally, how do you cope?” He knew his severance pay was not enough to live on for more than a few months. He might make it stretch one year at most. He asked himself what he should do. He had walked away from a career in IT, in a small town where people talk and reputation matters, and from an industry he knew well, but he was not suited to an environment where safety is ignored.
Together with his wife, he looked at what they had and where they could save money. They sold their home and moved further away to a more rural area. He looked at what work experience he had accumulated and how he could capitalize on those skills and that experience. He found a job working for a company where he utilized all of his skills; his technology knowledge, his security training, his safety experience, and he worked there for eight years; until he “fired” his employer three years ago because he was tired of the poor management.
During the chaos and craziness of the COVID-19 pandemic, he started reflecting on his working life and contacted me to share his musings. The advice he can offer to people looking for work is this:
- Look at the skills you have. Most of Case B’s life, he applied as an employee. Now, he realizes, he should have applied as a seller of his skills “you have skills, skills they want, skills to sell.”
- Find something you can put your heart into and think of ways to get yourself out of a situation.
- Connect with community, your community.
- It is not necessarily bad to leave a job.
Case B talked about times that were hard. He had times without food, so he would barter services for food. He had to get creative and take chances on unconventional ways to make a living. When he fired his boss three years ago, he reframed it into “early retirement.” Sometimes success is a matter of changing our attitude.
He is now doing home renovations to keep himself afloat. He is applying a lifetime of knowledge and skill gathering, alongside a positive attitude, to create work for himself. When we talked, he had just completed a major electrical upgrade on a house. He learned to be a perfectionist from his former boss. So, even a situation of not enjoying the management style was able to teach him something.
Case B has two children. His daughter is multilingual, has studied as an exchange student, completed her university degree and is now translating linguistics in Europe. His son is the hands-on type. He loves gaming and skateboarding. Case B encouraged him to look at what skills he gained from those activities and transfer them to real-world applications. Through skateboarding his son learned balance, perseverance, the value of practice. Through gaming he learned how to focus and has applied the depth of understanding complex systems to his workplace skills.
Case B had a tough time at school. He had a “hard, Catholic upbringing” and now at 65 years old feels “strong, confident, outspoken, brave.” The best advice he can offer is “be good enough for you.” When he was responsible for selecting workplace students who wanted to gain experience, he always chose from the middle – he never went with the best, he never went with the worst. He chose from the middle. We don’t need to be experts at things, he says, just good enough to get the job done well. Persevere. Be You! Let go of failed dreams – failure will happen but don’t dwell on it. Find the positive. Sell your skills. The employee-employer relationship is a balance of skills, needs, and wants.
Case B is happy working in house renovations, living and farming with his wife, advising his kids, and being his own boss.
As with most of the literacy projects over the past two decades, the Displaced Workers Project has challenged my ideas and stretched my thinking. Through the networking and surveying activities of the project, I have met a diverse array of people and have heard snippets of their stories. Literacy is one of the constant threads in a person’s life and living with low literacy skills often presents overwhelming barriers. Being involved with this project has afforded me the privilege of witnessing the resiliency and tenacity of individuals as they weather hardship and learn to adapt to new circumstances.