He was 44, had a wife, two kids – and a shoulder injury. This is the predicament Nigel Charlton of Nestleton found himself in after a 2008 work related injury left him unable to do the job he had been doing for 24 years.
Charlton says he didn’t know what to do. “With my injury I wasn’t going to have a labourer’s job. I wasn’t going to be doing any heavy lifting,” he says.
He says the specialist he saw about his injury recommended he apply for the Return to Work program.
The Return to Work and Second Career programs are opening new doors for many laid off and injured Canadians. Both programs offer them a chance to return to school and get a better job.
Return to Work is a program run through the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) that gives injured workers such as Charlton an opportunity to be re-trained for a more suitable job.
Charlton was sponsored by WSIB and started taking Business Operations Management at Durham College in the fall of 2010.
He says because of his injury, WSIB paid for everything, including tuition, books and transportation, even giving him a bi-weekly pay cheque so he could support his family.
“WSIB was very supportive, I always did what they asked me. I had a good relationship with my case worker,” he says.
Another option is the provincially run Second Career program. This program provides workers who have been laid off since 2005 or longer funding so they can go to school and get re-trained.
Tania Gonsalves, an employment counsellor with Durham Region Unemployed Help Centre, says it all starts in offices like hers.
She helps clients interested in re-training figure out if they are eligible for Second Career. She says the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has the final say on whether they can receive funding.
MTCU says it has approved just over 10,500 applicants in 2013-14.
It can sponsor applicants for up to $28,000 for tuition, books and living expenses depending on each person’s circumstances. Some people may be eligible for more if they are disabled, have larger families dependent on them, or need to live away from home.
MTCU says 74 per cent of Second Career students find a job because of being re-trained.
Gonsalves says after the application process has been approved, the next step is research. She gets her clients to research schools and compare program length, cost and other factors.
She also helps them use online career assessments to figure out which program would be best for them.
“There’s a difference between someone who might express an interest in the trades because they have always enjoyed working with their hands versus someone who might say they have always had an interest in mathematics,” she says.
Gonsalves estimates she sees around 20 Second Career clients in Durham Region from beginning, middle and end of the process each year.
She says the opportunity is what makes the program important. “So people know it doesn’t just end with the job loss, that there is certainly hope and certainly opportunity following the end of one employment option.”
This second hope is what appealed to Charlton. He says he never got an opportunity to go to school after a spinal infection ruined his chances of a hockey scholarship at Princeton University.
He couldn’t afford school after losing the scholarship and worked as a quality inspector for a company in Oshawa for 24 years before his injury.
“ [The program] opened up opportunities. I got to show I’m not just a labourer or a factory worker,” he says.
Terri-Lynn Villeneuve, 45 and a current Second Career student at Durham College, says she always wanted to continue her education but life just got in the way.
She was laid off in 2005 and was supposed to start school through the Second Career program in 2009 but a pregnancy changed her plans.
Now she is in her first year of the early childhood education program at Durham College.
She says the second career program pays for her tuition and books but she wishes it provided gas money to get to school. She says she couldn’t have afforded to return to school without the program.
“It’s given me an opportunity I wouldn’t have had,” she says.
The mom of four has had the lifelong aspiration to be a kindergarten teacher. She says she loves that age range and her face lights up as she compares kindergarteners to little sponges that love to learn. “They soak up everything you tell them!”
“There’s a lot of work included in the education process but if you can ride it out and get your stuff handed in, it’s worth the effort,” she says.
Charlton feels the same way. He is now the general manager at Buttons Heating and Air Conditioning in Pickering. He says he has found his calling.
“I wanted to be a manager of people,” he says. “The job I had before was just a job. What I have now, I consider a career.”
He says putting the time and effort into a second career is worth it. “It’s two or three years out of your life to make the difference for the rest of your life.”
He adds with a smile, “I’m happy now.”