For some of us, Waterloo Region’s tech industry success has been a boon.

When I graduated from the University of Waterloo, with my shiny arts degrees, I knew I wanted to stay in the region and work in tech.

Working for Communitech has allowed me to explore technology, while still working in my chosen field — communications.

While I certainly do not code every day (like some people still assume, since I work in with technology) I have found a way to make my arts-degree skills transferable to an industry that I find exciting and challenging.

Not everyone has that chance, and no one knows that better than Ellen Bleaney, a staff member at the Working Centre in downtown Kitchener.

The Working Centre is a non-profit that aims to empower individuals in the community who need help finding work or shelter, or gaining employable skills.  The organization runs — mostly with volunteers — community-based programs, such as community gardens, the Community Access Bikeshare program and the Queen Street Commons Café.

To better serve the needs of our community, the Working Centre has launched two programs this fall aimed at men and women under the age of 30: STEM to STEAM, and Digital Media for Youth.

“We’re working with youth to create training and placement opportunities that open up digital media and tech fields to people who may never have thought they could do this kind of work,” Bleaney said.

Some participants have faced difficult challenges in life; others have passion and skills, but struggle to find a foothold in the tech industry.

STEM to STEAM seeks to put arts in the traditional science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. It will help connect young people, ages 15-30, who are looking for tech-industry jobs as new arts graduates, but do not fit the traditional profile of a tech worker.

Bleaney is looking for a wide variety of participants, including women, new Canadians, visible minorities and people with disabilities.

It’s a six-month-long, full-time paid placement starting in January. Bleaney is still looking for employers interested in participating. The Working Centre offers subsidized funding for employers in the program.

“We walk the employer through the straightforward process of setting up the internship, including some simple paperwork,” Bleaney said.

If an employer would like to access STEM to STEAM internship funding, but does not have a candidate, the Working Centre may be able to suggest a match.

The Working Centre can fund 12 participants for the first cohort through Service Canada’s Career Focus program. It is still accepting applicants through the office.

The Digital Media for Youth program, which involves training and an internship, has operated in the past, but recently underwent an overhaul. It relaunches this week.

The training runs 20 hours a week for 14 weeks, and helps participants build out their portfolios. It focuses on such things as social media, creative design software, maker training for digital prototyping and digital storytelling.

“Many participants already have the skills,” Bleaney said. “We want to help them figure out how to market themselves to an employer.”

The six-week internship is technically a volunteer placement. The  specific details are decided by the employer. The placement can be part or full-time, and depending on a company’s budget, can be paid instead of a volunteer spot.

“Digital Media for Youth has been really great for people who have faced extra challenges in their lives, and are feeling a little stuck or don’t know where to go next,” she said. “It’s a great fit for people who have technological or creative passions, but don’t know how to turn those passions into a plan going forward.”

Both programs come with a lot of flexibility and customization. Potential participants should email STEM to STEAM and Digital Media for Youth to discover what works best for them.

The Working Centre, meanwhile, is always looking to make new connections in the STEM fields, especially in manufacturing, environment, agriculture, health, IT and digital media. Bleaney and the team would love to chat with any company interested in learning more about the programs.

While both programs help participants learn new skills and adapt to changing conditions, their greatest strength is in the connections the centre helps make.

“We help people open doors,” she said.


I’m personally using this weekend to winterize my house. Those snowflakes last weekend made me realize that winter is coming. There is still lots to do around the city if you aren’t quite ready to welcome the changing seasons . . . I see and hear that… The University of Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science (200 University Ave. E., Waterloo) is running GIRLsmarts4tech on Saturday, Oct. 24. The program runs 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. It aims to inspire girls in Grade 7 to explore technology through workshops such as Music and Technology, and Social Gaming. Registration is still open, and a spot costs $10 . . . This Saturday the Kitchener Public Library hosts the DIY Festival. The free drop-in-style day runs 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. with different programming at all KPL locations. Vendors include the Zonta Film Festival, Kwartzlab and Year of Code Waterloo Region. The KPL event calendar has more details on the day . . . On Wednesday, Oct. 28, NerdNite KW is hosting a special Halloween Edition at the Apollo Cinema, 141 Ontario St. N., Kitchener. The $12 ticket includes terrifying talks, trivia, and a costume contest. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with a special feature of episode one of Kitchener Sync. At 7 p.m., the trivia and fun begins. At 9 p.m., Apollo Cinema will screen Beetlejuice.

Photo: From the Future Interface 2014 event by NYC Media Lab is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.