Take one high-level IT executive and a young man on social assistance and put them together through a program called NPower. The result is a very special graduation ceremony, and one less young person unemployed.
A creative approach to Toronto's youth unemployment is giving young people who never thought they'd have a chance to work at a good job in information technology.
Monday will mark the second graduation event for NPower, an IT training program for young people who are unemployed or stuck in dead-end jobs.
Eric Lui will be among the graduates from NPower.
He's a high school graduate, but hadn't been inside a classroom for years. "After high school, I didn't know what I wanted to do," he said. "I felt anxious all the time."
He worked in call centres and chain coffee shops. He called the experience of looking for work "miserable," and eventually went on Ontario Works, a welfare program to support people with low incomes.
"Everything required post-secondary education," he said of his job search.
He entered the NPower program. And before graduation, at age 25, he began work for one of the program's sponsers, Accenture Digital.
Stephen Gardiner, managing director of Accenture Digital in Canada and chair of NPower Canada's board, noticed Lui in class.
"When you go into a class there's always a handful of individuals who stand out," said Gardiner. "Eric stood out."
Gardiner will be giving the graduation speech. He was an early supporter of the NPower program.
"I was really drawn to the issue of youth unemployment; the barriers and challenges that exist," he said.
He cited the fact that as many as 80,000 young people in Toronto are unemployed or underemployed. And even that was conservative, since the problem affects those older. NPower admits students as old as 29.
"Feedback from the first couple of cohorts is that it's taking that much longer for young people to find their feet," he said.
Getting into NPower is not easy. Lui recalls a multi-step application process. He worked on it for days.
The hard work can pay off though, Lui said.
"Before the program, I felt like I was second-class," he said. "I never felt like I was the smartest or brightest. But I really learned what good support can do. I learned I was worth something."