The social effects of employment related problems can be unfathomable, often rendering an individual powerless. Rejected by mainstream society, an otherwise talented person ends up in an ongoing cycle of social assistance and low-paying jobs. ATEC breaks that cycle by providing assistance, and community-specific employment related programs and service proven, highly effective adult learning approach.


The grey carpeted hallways and computer rooms are one of the few alternatives for a seriously underemployed community

Last year, the African Training and Employment Centre made a major breakthrough in non-traditional technical training for African women. In a program offered jointly with George Brown College of Applied Arts and Technology, students learned how to work with computer controlled machinery. It was a thirty-six week course, twelve of which were on-the-job in work placements. It's a tough course for an individual trying to cope with culture shock and facing rejection from others who do not understand her background or situation.

But by the end of the program the women had a solid grounding in leading-edge computer numerical control machines (CNC machines) used in the manufacture of metal and plastic parts. CNC machines are used for high-precision work in the manufacture of everything from auto-parts to medical instruments to artificial limbs. Whenever you get into your car or flick a light switch to use any common instrument, it was probably manufactured on a CNC machine guided by a skilled CNC operator.

CNC work is dominated by men. There are few women working on the shop floors of industries that use such technology. On top of learning a new job, then, the students in this first course also had to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination. "They've hardly had time to adapt to the general environment, never mind all the particular difficulties associated with non- traditional work," says A TEC executive director, Larissa Cairncross.

ATEC had an uphill climb as well, making as many as fifty to a hundred phone calls to find and confirm each work placement. In addition, the placement period for this first course coincided with the beginning of a major I recession in the manufacturing industry. Many plants were either laying off workers or closing down indefinitely. Coupled with traditional prejudices, this produced some interesting responses. One firm pleaded that it would be forced to spend thousands of dollars to build new washrooms for female trainees. Another said that the presence of women in a factory would distract men from their work.

ATEC has not escaped the recession either and finds itself in a constant battle for shrinking funds increasingly being siphoned off to mainstream organizations. It's a battle we are determined to win, because the community demands it. Mainstream organizations are not and cannot be fully geared to the special employment related needs of the African community. ATEC effectively applies extensive knowledge and understanding of the African community to the development and delivery of its programs and services.

Despite the odds, ATEC managed to place 75% of the trainees in CNC plants. Two of them, Adanech and Paulette, became apprentices at Exacta Precision Products of Agincourt, Ontario, a manufacturer of punches and dies for piercing and forming systems. The firm was supportive of the program and also of the women. Plant Manager, Noubar Kokorian, encouraged the trainees and had them working on CNC lathe machines. These machines are large and expensive, costing $100,000 to $200,000 each. They are equipped with innumerable controls and a single mistake could ruin a job and cost the company time and money.

It's demanding work. But in a just a few short months, the students learned to read blue prints, write computer programs, do precision measuring and calculations, set up tools and run the parts. It was a tough grind, and the students were among the first to admit it. "At first, I got into a bit of an accident, but they guided me through," says Paulette. Over the last four years, ATEC has provided a range of programs and services.

Besides the new CNC program, regular programs include a micro-computer skills training course, ESL, life skills, and pre-employment preparation. Like the CNC course, the micro-computer courses include placement components. In addition to training programs, the agency offers information, support and resources for personal growth and development.

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