WKRP in Winnipeg: Putting People to Work

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The Salvation Army’s WKRP Program brings employment skills to those who have none

by Ken Ramstead

 

Last month, we profiled the innovative STEP program in Winnipeg, which helps people attain a literacy level needed for gainful employment. But once they can read and write, what then? This is where The Salvation Army’s WKRP program comes in.

Short for the WorK Readiness Program, WKRP was started in 1996 with the purpose of increasing the employability of high-needs social-assistance recipients. “When I talk about ‘high needs,’ ” says Mandy Raynsford, The Salvation Army’s WKRP Program Supervisor, “a lot of our clients have criminal records, they have low literacy, many of them have little work experience. Some have not completed high school. Many have low self-esteem and little motivation to find employment.”

The WKRP program provides a full 40-hour-a-week course. Twenty hours consists of classroom instruction on basic job-search skills. “We teach resume writing,” continues Raynsford, “how to dress for interviews, how to get along with co-workers, how to communicate with your boss, as well as life skills, basics like time-management, budgeting, stress- and anger-management.”

Computer skills are not neglected. WKRP’s basic computer-skills course shows clients, for instance, how to work in Word and Excel, and how to use the Internet in their job search

There are four people on staff, one full-time and three part-time, with many of the staff splitting their time between STEP and WKRP.

While the first half of a WKRP day consists of classroom instruction, the second half is given up to the actual job search. Raynsford stresses that WKRP is not a job-placement organization. “What we do is give our clients the skills they need to find employment. We provide them with newspapers, job leads, Internet and phone access and printed copies of their resumes, to name a few: The things they need to actually do the job search. But the rest is up to them. They have to apply for the job themselves.”

WKRP could easily find their clients jobs. “But what happens five years from now when that company closes down or if the client wants to move up to a better job?” asks Raynsford, “Do they come running back to us? We want them to find employment on their own, whether it be today, five years or 10 years from now. We want to give them the skills so that they can do it themselves.”

WKRP’s clients stay in the program until they find employment. This can be for a few days but is seldom more than three months.

How effective is WKRP? The figures speak for themselves. In 2005-2006, 107 people participated in the WKRP program. An astonishing 86 percent found employment. Even more important, however, a follow-up three months later found 74 percent were still employed.

This success is very gratifying to Raynsford. “People come back and say, ‘I’ve moved into my own apartment. I don’t live in a hotel room anymore because I have a job.’ Or they tell us, ‘My kids are so proud of me now.’ People who never dreamed of entering the job world all of a sudden realize it’s not as scary as they thought. It’s just amazing to see the turnaround in some of them.”

While there are many different organizations in Winnipeg that do this kind of work, what makes WPRP stand out is that they take the clients nobody else wants. “We take the ones that everybody thinks are unemployable,” states Raynsford. “The neat thing about the WKRP program is that we will give anybody a chance. If they’re willing to put the effort into it, we’ll give them a chance no matter what.”