A new pre-employment program created through a partnership between the Algoma District School Board and Ontario Works, uses the “business of crafting” to help provide adult students the support they need to get back into the workforce. Held at Northland Adult Learning Centre, the program is becoming popular.
Megan Deresti, the instructor for the 2-hour a day, 8-week Northland Craft Academy, explains the concept: “It is a wonderful program. In addition to the crafting skills, students are taught the basics of business planning and advertising, soft skills like teamwork, communications and personal management, how to use market research and they even get some computer training. All of these things are used by the students to create a mock business.”
For Deresti, the ultimate goal of the program is to set students up for success in the employment world. “Coming out of this program, people will have experiences and skills that they can use in their career. And I get to write them a wonderful reference letter. Having a solid reference is one of the biggest barriers for employment. I get to know the students pretty well and get to see their strengths. I see them in a work-like environment. For example, attendance is really emphasized here and is used to teach students how to handle it if they have a conflict and aren’t able to attend class that day. They need to be professional in communicating that with me.”
Chantal Artuso had been working up until the birth of her daughter. As a single mom, Artuso found it difficult to get back into the workforce right away. It wasn’t until her daughter began school that she first heard about the program.
“I heard about this course and I jumped on it,” says Artuso, noting that is seemed to fit her future plans. “I have been trying to figure out how to start my own business using my crafts.”
Artuso comes by her talent naturally.
“My family is pretty crafty. I have an aunt who is a talented painter and been in local shows and my Nana used to sew and knit. So I have always been interested in crafts.”
Artuso tells a story about how her grandmother used to make little bears out of old fur jackets.
“She was supposed to show me how to do that, but unfortunately she passed away before she could teach me. But I had all the patterns, so I made a couple of them as a tribute to her. I made one for my daughter when she was born. I even put the little strawberry button on it like my Nana always did.”
One of the specific skills that Artuso brought with her to the class was her crocheting talent, something her mother passed down to her. She jokes that all of her family already have her crocheted blankets, so she decided it was time to expand her market.
As part of the Academy, Artuso learned some additional craft skills, including learning how to macramé, make painted decorative signs made of wood and creating rolled beeswax candles. She also learned how technology could help her in her business aspirations.
“Before this program, I wasn’t big on computers. I have now learned to use Photoshop, although it still frustrates me sometimes,” she laughs. “I also had never used a Cricut machine and it is so much fun.”
Cricuts are a die-cutting machine that can print out designs onto paper, vinyl, fabric, craft foam, or sticker paper. Each design is cut with precision allowing the user to make stencils to help create consistency.
“I still get really excited every time I do it. I love it,” says Artuso, who has used her new skills to create her own designs.
Artuso’s partnership with both her teacher and a representative from Ontario Works, has helped her to take important steps toward launching her business. “I got some help from Megan [at Northland] and Emma Caicco at Ontario Works on the business side of my planning. Ontario Works helped with the startup to get a tablet and a Square Reader [for electronic money transactions], so I could start a little business on my own.”
With so many artists and crafters selling their creations at pop-up arts and craft shows in the community, at the local markets and even online with sites like Etsy, Deresti thinks Artuso has a great opportunity. “A little bit of a business background can go a long way,” says Deresti.
This past weekend, Artuso and her fellow classmates gained some first-hand experience selling their creations at The Algoma Farmers Market in the Market Mall. The opportunity was created through the program as an opportunity to get hands-on experience.
“The students get to learn from interacting with real shoppers and I am able to see their conduct in performing sales,” says Deresti. “All the proceeds from our sales are going to the Soup Kitchen and the Neighbourhood Resource Centre. It is a great way to give back to the community.”
Artuso is realistic about her next steps and wants to take it slowly. “I don’t want to dive in head first. I would like to start with the local shows and then maybe go to a place like the Mill Market or Farmer’s Market, until my daughter is a bit more independent. This was a great experience. It was my first time selling things I make. I would definitely take this program again to learn some more advanced things like setting prices and developing business cards. I would like to do that.”
For Deresti, she sees the Academy as an opportunity to provide others like Artuso a natural way to get back into a school setting.
“Many students are young parents or have been out of school for a long time, so coming back to school could be a big barrier. Coming into a program like this for craft is very natural and accessible. Although students are exposed to traditional school setting, the learning is set up to be fun and hands-on. The students are really personally invested in the outcome.”
As for Deresti, she hopes to run the program three times a year.
“I love teaching this. I have the best job.”
The next Northland Craft Academy program begins mid-January 2020. Those who are interested in the program can find out more by contacting Northland Adult Learning Centre at (705) 945-7109.