Source: BGC Canada

Old Navy has been a proud partner of BGC Canada since 2005, helping prepare the next generation of leaders for workplace success. Old Navy’s This Way ONward program helps Clubs provide youth with job readiness training, by offering real-world work experience with on-the-job skill building, alongside one-on-one mentorship and coaching. This program aims to help young people unlock their career potential and can help youth get their first job or prepare them for the next step in their career. This Way ONward provides a safe space for young people to learn the skills necessary to build a more secure future and successful career.

On Thursday, April 28, 2022, at BGC Winnipeg’s Annual General Meeting, the Club honoured volunteers from their local Old Navy with the ‘Community Spirit Group Award’, which is given annually to a corporate partner that provides exceptional support and goes above and beyond to assist their local BGC Club.

This Way ONward has been in high demand among youth at BGC Winnipeg since its inception three years ago. Since then, 30 of the 50 young people from the Club who applied for jobs have been hired at Old Navy or Old Navy–related stores.

Program participants are granted a job interview with Old Navy, but BGC Winnipeg staff shared that the real magic of the program actually happens before.

Club and Old Navy staff help the youth prepare by hosting activities like workshops and practice interviews. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Old Navy would also invite Club youth to tour their stores and get behind-the-scenes glimpses of the work that goes into running them. Club youth get a chance to sit down with Old Navy staff members and learn about their work experiences in the retail industry.

In Winnipeg, this local partnership has been a win-win situation for everyone involved: the local BGC Club, Club youth, and the Old Navy store. Old Navy was an obvious choice for BGC Winnipeg when choosing their Community Spirit Award recipient because they have been working together for decades. In fact, when considering which corporate partner to recognize, BGC Winnipeg’s Community Engagement Director, Heather Black, pulled out pictures of Old Navy staff at the Club from the early 2000s.

This Way ONward seeks to remove barriers to employment for youth and meets them halfway to assist based on their needs. These opportunities have been important for the youth, Jocelyn said, because “it’s one thing for us to tell the youth about employment…and work with them on resumes and such but it’s another when you say ‘ok, the store manager is going to come, and they want to spend some time with you’”. Overall, she would say the program has been “a really positive experience for a lot of our youth” and has “made a big impact, over the last few years especially”.

The program allows Old Navy staff to build authentic connections with the youth at the Club, where they feel most confident removing the typical power dynamic in a standard interview situation. The participants already knew their co-workers when they got the job from the workshops and had mentor-like relationships with them that eased them into the workforce. Jocelyn said that these experiences “show youth this is what your first job could be like, you can do it”.

Old Navy staff are very active at the BGC Winnipeg Club, and BGC participants become well acquainted with them. Not only are they active in community events such as family barbeques, Christmas, clothing donations, and food drives but they also spend hours playing games with the youth and getting to know them personally. These relationships have not only helped the clubs operate and provide services to the community, but it has helped BGC youth in the long run. For many of the participants, this was the first time they had gotten a job. While this could have made some of the teenagers nervous, their nerves were alleviated by the close relationship many of them built with the Old Navy staff before completing an interview.

One of the youth participants of the program, Jeremy, seconded this. Jeremy was a member of the BGC Winnipeg club for approximately 10 months. He was looking for a job in Grade 11, when his school guidance counsellor connected him to Jocelyn at BGC Winnipeg and he joined This Way ONward. He describes his overall experience in the program as “very fun” and noted that the program helped him gain confidence in his ability to get a job. He worked at Old Navy for nine months and said, “every single one of them [employees and workers at Old Navy] was great”. He even gained “quite a few friends” from his time there and helped his friend get a job there as well.

Jeremy felt that the skills he gained from the program “has prepared me for a lot more in the rest of my life”. He learned to write a resume during one of his BGC workshops, which he still uses now, and gained practical skills such as how to fold clothing, planning, training other people how to do the job, and how to be a leader. The experience taught him “a little bit about myself, and a little bit about others too”.

The This Way ONward program has been particularly popular with older teens at BGC Winnipeg, who are seeking their first job or a seasonal position, to help build their work experience. But Jocelyn also shared that there is demand amongst younger teenagers, who are 14 or 15, and eager to join the program, but need to wait until they are 16 to participate. This is great news for Old Navy, because there is a steady stream of prospective employees who have been trained in job readiness at their local BGC Club. Those who are old enough to apply, and have been chosen, are always able to stay on for longer periods of time if they wish to. Stephanie Mclean, who is an Old Navy Community District Leader, said there is always room for talent at Old Navy.

Overall, working together on the This Way ONward program has been positive for everyone involved. Both Jocelyn and Stephanie repeated that working with each other “never felt like work” and Stephanie mentioned that because BGC is “an organization that really cares about young people”, she felt she was “making a difference in someone’s life”. When I asked Jeremy whether he would recommend this program to others, he responded, “Absolutely, yes. 100%”.