The Montreal Gazette article on La Passerelle

A helping hand for job seekers – The Montreal Gazette Article

MONTREAL – If you ask me what it’s all about, it’s this,” says Leslie Acs as he scans La Passerelle’s crowded foyer, nodding toward the animated cluster of men and women heaping food from the potluck lunch onto paper plates. Noisy conversation mixes with laughter and smiles as they celebrate the end of the latest 12-week job-transition workshop program.

While career backgrounds differ, participants here share one goal: To find meaningful work. Work that lets them use their skills and experience. Work that lets them excel, feel motivated and pay the bills.

Since 1990, La Passerelle, a non-profit organization that partners with Emploi-Québec, has offered free 12-week English and French employment programs largely to job-seekers age 40 or older living on the island of Montreal. The program combines workshops with one-on-one coaching.

As its executive director, Acs has seen many participants arrive depressed and demoralized. “Searching for work has become a very technical, dehumanized process,” he says. “Because of the sheer volume of online applications, HR may not have the time or resources to respond. So, you don’t get feedback. You go for an interview. Again, no feedback. Your self-esteem and self-confidence crumble. We counter that with a humanistic approach.”

Which is why La Passerelle uses a four-phased career-development process. The first two have participants assess their skills and abilities, achievements, experience, life values and motivations. They also research jobs, those in the field where they’ve honed their skills or jobs in new fields where skills can be transferred.

“We’re all on a treadmill, we never stop to ask ourselves what’s important to us,” says Julie-Ann Barna. As a chemical engineer with corporate and consulting experience, she anticipated seeking work in that area. Now, she sees that her skills are transferable to other types of chemical industries and other areas of consulting. Or, she says with a broad smile, “to something entirely different.”

“The most important part of the process is acknowledging your skills and their value,” Barna says. “And it’s amazing to be with people who are in the same situation and age group. It’s reassuring and comforting all at the same time and we can share experiences and ideas.”

“La Passerelle has helped me gain a realistic view of the job I’m looking for and what matters to me. And that’s my family. It’s not just about getting a job, but getting the job that fits.” While she’s fairly new to the program, Barna already has an updated resumé and a brief elevator pitch – a short marketing blurb she can give out anytime about who she is and the kind of work she’s seeking.

Michael Cullen credits his elevator pitch with opening up a new area for him. “I wanted a part-time job in the non-profit sector to supplement my new career as a professional career-life coach,” Cullen explains. “I’d already gone for a few interviews when a workshop presenter at La Passerelle cancelled. Of course, they’d heard what I’d said about working for a non-profit organization and asked me to give the workshop. It was so well received, I decided to complement my coaching with giving workshops. I now give some at La Passerelle and elsewhere.”

Cullen empathizes with many participants’ uncertainty and anxiety. At the age of 46, with an award-winning 16-year career as a TV director and producer, he got laid off. Once the shock wore off and seeing few opportunities in his field, he opted for a complete change. He earned a personal and professional coach certificate from Concordia University, where he now works part-time as a coaching facilitator.

“When you have a job, you don’t think about the job search process, or look at your strengths and values, if they are congruent with the company you work for,” Cullen explains. “But, when you’re not employed, you have to ask: What are my assets? What matters to me? What changes am I willing to make?”

The mechanics of searching for that new job are covered more specifically in the program’s third and fourth modules. Acs describes them as the marketing aspects of the program. They include resumés and cover letters tailored to make the recipient stop and look, networking, the use of social media such as LinkedIn, conducting informational interviews with individuals in the field that interest you and more.

“We also discuss looking for a job as a mature worker. A big concern for many participants is their age,” Acs said. “Yes, some organizations are less inclined to take on mature workers. But more companies are hiring them because they have a proven track record and more traditional work ethics. So, it’s getting easier and they are more valued.”

Still, age was a frustration for Lawrence Lang when he began his job search. “I’d get a call and after talking they’d focus on age,” he says, his impatience coming through. “Well, of course they could see my resumé and my years of experience. Just do the math.”

In the long run, it was his years of experience that netted him a job he loves. On a full-time basis as practice-management instructor at Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, Lang teaches registered immigration consultants. Many of those he teaches completed the course he has taught part time at LaSalle College since 2007. He now has the work balance he’d sought. “When I left the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada after my contracts ended, the workplace had changed considerably,” Lang explains. “I’d had two jobs in 23 years, at the board and at McGill for over 13 years. And the job search field had become weird.” He describes a phone interview conducted on a Sunday afternoon while the interviewer cooked dinner. “And it was for a high-level job, too,” he says, surprised even now. “I needed somebody to tell me what the heck was going on.”

At La Passerelle, he felt reassured by the workshops that focused on the current job market and on job interview skills. And he even grew to feel comfortable with networking.

“I went through that whole phase of not wanting anybody to know I wasn’t working because of what they would think,” he says. “That was all part of what I worked through with my coach Denis Caron. At La Passerelle, the message is clear: You’re the product.” Seeing yourself as the product, or “Me, Inc.” takes into account skills, experience, goals and values and combines them personal development, networking and continuing job market awareness. It’s a view La Passerelle encourages participants to hold fast to.

“Many graduates stay in touch,” Acs says with obvious pride. “Some even as volunteers, others as part of our network. They say it’s because of the people who work here. I agree, they are inspiring, just like our participants.”

La Passerelle is an employment help center located in Montreal. We offer a subsidized job search assistance program for experienced professionals 40 years of age and older that includes workshops and personalized coaching sessions. We also offer private coaching by experienced career coaches to professionals who wish to do so. Do as many professionals do, contact us, we will help you find a meaningful job based on your skills.