African Training and Employment Centre
by Margaret Anderson-Clarke
It's Monday morning, and the telephone is already ringing off the hook. The voice on the other end says, "Hello? Is this the African Training and Employment Centre?" Before you can say a word, she continues in a desperate voice, "I am an African woman. I am a refugee, I have no money, I have no job--I need help."
She has already called at least a dozen places. This time she's lucky. She'll be coming in next week for an interview and she is a possible candidate for the Computer Numerical Control Operator Program, a novel course on state-of-the-art computer controlled manufacturing technology. At first blush she does seem an unlikely candidate but she will be given the opportunity to prove herself£ She's not looking for a hand-out. She wants to learn, she wants to work, she wants a new life for herself - and needs a chance. This is a typical call and only one in a succession of calls to follow. Eighty percent will be from African women requiring employment related programs and services, women with poor English skills and no technical background, many of whom are refugees who have suffered tremendous hardship on their way to Canada.
The second floor of a renovated warehouse in Toronto's west end has been the home of the African Training and Employment Centre (A TEC) since its establishment in 1987. The grey carpeted hallways, classrooms and computer room have been one of the few alternatives for a community suffering from serious unemployment (the latest figure was 37.9% compared to a national rate of l0%), underemployment, and a myriad of barriers to gainful employment. The country's current economic situation has made matters worse; minorities are often targeted as scapegoats during hard times.
The needs of the African community are great and they are compounded by other factors. The community comprises over thirty national and/or ethnic African groups, each with their own characteristic languages and cultures. The diversity is enormous. But the "communities within the community" all experience similar problems in adjusting to a new environment and finding viable employment. Individuals are often " rejected due to language problems, non-transferable skills, unrecognized education qualifications, and barriers such as racism.