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Our employment programs are helping people build better lives

Across Peel, Toronto and York Region, people face barriers to getting a stable job with a good income. Newcomers don’t have Canadian work experience. Indigenous, Black and racialized applicants often face discrimination. Women make less than their male counterparts and often must balance caretaking responsibilities with their careers.

When combined with a high cost of living and an affordable housing crisis, these barriers to good, stable income can push people into poverty, preventing them and their families from building a bright future.

That’s why United Way works on multiple fronts to connect people to the training, support and opportunities they need.

Connecting people to in-demand jobs

When Syed first arrived in Canada, he struggled to find a job in his field. He had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s degree in project management, but his credentials weren’t recognized in his new home. To help support his household, Syed joined the gig economy, making food deliveries on his bike in freezing temperatures.


People with precarious jobs earn about half of what those in stable jobs earn and live in households with 34 per cent lower income. 

When he wasn’t working, Syed was talking to a career counsellor at The Neighbourhood Organization, a United Way-funded organization, about finding a full-time job. The counsellor told him about Aecon-Golden Mile (A-GM), one of five projects to come out of the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) Initiative convened by United Way and BMO. A-GM is a construction joint venture between Aecon Group Inc. and the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity (CIEO) that provides training and job pathways in the construction industry for residents of Scarborough. 

Syed immediately signed up. 

1 in 4

immigrants with a university degree worked at a job that typically requires a high school education or less. That’s 2.5 times more than the “overqualification rate” of Canadian born degree holders.

(The Star, 2023)

He did six weeks of training, where he got experience with everything from hydrovac trucks to installing fibre optic cable into homes. At the end of the program, he got a job with A-GM. And when his education equivalency came through, he was able to move up within the organization. Today, he’s a project coordinator for A-GM. 

“That’s a huge jump for me,” he says. “It’s the start of my professional career. It’s what I was aiming for.”

A-GM is just one example of how United Way is creating demand-driven career pathways that not only help job seekers find good work, but also connect employers to the talent they need. United Way funds almost 70 employment programs across Peel, Toronto and York region, including CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals’ Mortgage Underwriter Program, which is connecting Black youth to jobs in the mortgage sector, and International Development and Relief Foundation’s Women in Tech initiative, which provides training for women from equity-deserving groups.

These programs are effective not only because they’re connecting people to thriving industries—they’re also designed to meet the unique needs of the individual and community being served.

“Good employment programs are customized to the needs of specific populations,” says Nation, United Way’s Vice President of Community Opportunities & Mobilization. “And for many of the communities that we serve, that includes providing wraparound supports that help folks have the greatest chance of retaining and growing within a job opportunity.” 

32 partners

ILEO brings 32 partners together to reduce economic inequality in Scarborough’s Greater Golden Mile. Its five projects are preparing residents to take advantage of opportunities created by new developments and infrastructure projects.

The importance of wraparound supports

Beyond providing training and on-the-job experience, United Way-funded programs provide additional supports that people need to succeed. That can look like connecting moms to childcare so they can make it to a job interview; ensuring people have transportation to their new job; or making sure Indigenous youth arriving in the GTA have someone to turn to with questions about how to navigate new systems.

At Eshkiniigjik Naandwechigegamig, Aabiish Gaa Binjibaaying (ENAGB) Youth Program, an Indigenous youth-led and serving organization, it looks like creating a safe, welcoming space where youth can build their self-esteem, confidence and skills. 

“One of the things that we do is support youth that have mental health challenges and addictions who are looking for employment but are just not there yet,” says Cynthia, ENAGB’s Executive Director.

ENAGB meets youth where they’re at: providing everything from a drop-in space to cultural programs for youth in recovery. The goal is to help improve overall well-being and connect youth to a support network. And when youth are ready, program coordinators help with job searches, resume writing, interview prep and more.

How art therapy connected youth to the employment support they needed

Cynthia tells us about how an art therapy program created by ENAGB’s Youth Council helped youth find a safe space to build up their skills and self-confidence.

“United Way is so well connected with the communities it serves and is uniquely positioned to provide the best wraparound employment supports.”

When youth do secure a job, they also know that they can rely on ENAGB and their peers to navigate any challenges they may face.

This sense of community is a key part of United Way’s employment programs. Because when people don’t feel isolated, they’re better able to navigate challenges and problem-solve. And when they succeed, they don’t just improve their own lives, they also improve their community.

Good jobs lead to strong communities

A good job is just the beginning. It provides security, but also opens doors and possibilities.

“A regular income allows us to cover our needs and pursue our aspirations,” says Nation. “That, concentrated in a neighbourhood, creates the conditions for greater social cohesion, greater sense of stability and confidence for me to reach out and build relationships with my neighbours, it enriches my sense of civic engagement.”

Someone who knows where their next paycheque is coming from and has health benefits can focus their energy on other things.

For example, some ENAGB program participants become members of its youth cabinet, helping to make the programming better for their peers. Syed is mentoring other newcomers who are going through the A-GM program and would tell any of his neighbours to sign up.

That’s what United Way is all about. One neighbour supporting another so that we can all thrive. Because when we work together, we can build brighter futures. Free from poverty and full of opportunity.


Last year United Way helped more than 5,000 people develop the skills and confidence needed to join the workforce.

You can join us in this work.

Help us connect people to jobs and
uild strong neighbourhoods.