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'They helped us believe in ourselves': Tech training program helps marginalized GTA youth land jobs

NPower Canada is a charitable organization funded by government partners, the United Way and corporate sponsors, focused on connecting under-served young people with meaningful employment.

About 80% of graduates attain jobs within 6 months, NPower Canada says

The NPower Canada program now runs in four locations across the country, three in the GTA and one in Calgary. (Submitted by NPower Canada)

Hundreds of marginalized GTA youth are landing jobs in the tech industry thanks to a free IT training program launched by non-profit NPower Canada.

The charitable organization identifies under-served youth — for example, young people who may not be able to attain a post-secondary education or who face challenges as newcomers — and puts them through a 15-week tech training course.

About 80 per cent of the program's graduates attain jobs with major employers within six months of graduating from the program, according to CEO of NPower Canada Julia Blackburn.

"The model works. We've taken someone that maybe didn't have hope and maybe was even on government support and now they're like, 'Oh look, I just was offered a job by this great company,'" she told CBC's Our Toronto.

The program came to Toronto five years ago, helping to fight against an extremely high youth unemployment rate — 18 per cent, according to city staff reports from 2015.

NPower Canada CEO Julia Blackburn says after each and every graduation ceremony, 'there's not a dry eye in the house.' (CBC)

"Toronto was identified as a community that had not only a need on the youth unemployment side, but also a large tech sector that could provide jobs for those youth," Blackburn said.

'Multiple barriers to employment'

"We're really looking at youth who have multiple barriers to employment."

The charitable organization is funded by government partners, the United Way and corporate sponsors.

Since starting in Canada, they've gone from 87 graduates in 2015 to more than 600 last year across four programs — three in the GTA and one in Calgary. 

Bara Maklouf has a degree in electrical engineering, but says she had trouble finding a job when she came to Canada from Syria because she didn't have local experience. (CBC )

Bara Maklouf graduated from the program earlier in January and landed a job with software giant, Mozilla.

She moved to Toronto from Syria with an electrical engineering degree, but said she'd struggled to find a job because she didn't have any Canadian experience.

"So I started to feel, like, stuck and discouraged," she said. 

"Then I got my job and I feel confident with all Canadian culture and my technical skills. They groomed us to be professional in the workplace."

NPower Canada is continuing to grow the program, expanding to another GTA location later in 2020.

In an email, Google Canada also told CBC Toronto they're hosting a major investment announcement Feb. 6 involving the charity.

WATCH: An emotional day for dozens of graduates who completed NPower Canada's program. Our Toronto host Marivel Taruc spoke to some of them.

NPower Canada is fighting to lower the youth unemployment rate by providing marginalized young people with free training to attain jobs in the tech industry. (Some video submitted by NPower Canada/Brandon Dietrich). 7:18

'It's thrilling for everyone' 

Ruth Wollebo, a refugee from Ethiopia, also graduated from the program in January and landed a job with smart thermostat company Ecobee. 

"Seven months ago when I moved to Canada, I'd left behind my job, my family and every experience I have back there," she said.

"I knew no one when I came here, so I got family and friends from the program ... They helped us believe in ourselves."

NPower Canada graduate Ruth Wollebo landed a job at smart thermostat company, Ecobee. (CBC)

NPower follows up with the graduates for five years after they've left the program, ensuring they have all the coaching and counselling they need.

Blackburn said their students are so successful because they're preparing them with both technical skills and soft skills, like presentation and communication.

"We're really working with employers to understand exactly what they need, what are the jobs they're trying to fill and what are the skills that they need to fill those jobs," she said.

When graduation ceremonies roll around after each group completes the program, there's never "a dry eye in the house," Blackburn said.

"Hearing the youth speakers talk about their journey and where they were 15 weeks ago and where they are now ... It's thrilling for everyone."

With files from Marivel Taruc