An innovative new pilot program designed to connect troubled youth in Haliburton County with meaningful employment has seen some success in recent months.

The Haliburton Youth Hub was selected as one of six locations across Ontario to lead the Lift initiative last spring. The program, launched by the Canadian Association for Mental Health, provides integrated employment supports for individuals aged 14 to 25, helping them with a wide variety of job-based skills and connecting them with potential employers.

Ryan Martin has been running the program in the Highlands since September. He has around a dozen clients he’s actively working with, some of whom he’s already helped place in jobs.

“One of the really cool things about Lift is that it’s an individualized program. We really tailor our services to the needs of the clients,” Martin said. “Once we’ve connected with someone, we’ll meet with them, work on long-term career planning and get as much information as we can to get to know them and come up with ideas for what we can do for them.”

The most important component, Martin says, is figuring out a client’s preferences.

“They’re not going to be interested and properly apply themselves unless it’s something they really want to do,” he noted.

“Once we learn where their interests lie, we can take things to the next level, so to speak.” Once the ball starts rolling, things can develop quickly. One of the principals of Lift is rapid job searching, Martin said, meaning clients are, ideally, placed into a job within a month of signing up.

“Within that first month, I’m helping people do resumes, write cover letters, going out and actually applying and then helping them with the interview process,” Martin said. “The idea is that everyone should at least have been interviewed within 30 days of seeking out our services. I think we’ve been pretty successful in maintaining that so far.”

One of the interesting parts of Lift is that services don’t end as soon as a youth is matched with an employer. Martin says there are no timelines in place, so, theoretically, he could work with an individual for the entirety of the three-year pilot.

Job coaching has already become a key part of his job.

“The first goal is to get them a job. From there, we work to solve any performance issues, and just making sure they’re comfortable in the work place,” Martin said. “For the most part, our employers have been very supportive, and they’ve been happy with the youth we’ve matched them with.”

Martin is also available to offer supports and advice to employers throughout the process.

Lift operates from a zero-exclusion policy, meaning anyone is welcome to access services, regardless of the severity of their mental health, disability or substance abuse issues.

That policy is one of the main things that drew Martin to the job.

“The only criteria for engaging in this program is having a desire to work. We believe people can improve their situations by having a job,” Martin said. “Research shows that 60 per cent of people with serious mental illness report wanting to work, but only about 20 per cent are employed. So, this policy is all about recognizing that, regardless of their issues, these people are capable of being in the regular workforce.”