A new study has found a seven-year-old academy in East Preston, N.S., that helps adults improve their qualifications and find better jobs has had a million-dollar impact on Nova Scotia.
Anita Shinde, a partner in accounting firm Deloitte's economic advisory practice, said the East Preston Empowerment Academy's cumulative economic contribution to GDP from 2016 to 2020 was $1.02 million, including creating 14 full-time jobs. That amounted to $1.05 return on every dollar invested in the academy.
"The removal of barriers to education was really a critical finding," Shinde said.
The free academy, which primarily serves Black Nova Scotians, helps adults improve their certifications and credentials, and then connects them to the labour market.
Shinde said the study shows the value of focusing on marginalized communities, and how there are challenges that programs like the East Preston Empowerment Academy "are really helping us address in effective ways."
The academy works with partners like the Black Educators Association to run general adult learning programs, a GED program to help adults complete high school, tutoring in math and science, pathways to trades programing, mentorships and a red seal program.
'It's like new snow'
Howard Benjamin is part of that success story. He had earned a university degree and had a good office job, but wanted to find a new career working with his hands.
In 2015, he heard about the academy and joined a meeting. He started going regularly on Monday and Friday evenings to figure out how to get his red seal certification as an electrician.
"I love new construction because it's like new snow. It's your footsteps," he said.
Today he runs his own business, HoweeBee Electric. He loves the work, and loves showing young Black men the paths to earning more money and enjoying a better life.
"Let's take hockey for example. We'll see a picture of Sidney Crosby when he was younger and there will be a picture of him with, say, Wayne Gretzky. And you'll see a picture of Wayne Gretzky when he was younger and you'll see a picture of him with Gordie Howe," he said.
"What I find is if we take that example and we put it in the trades — a young man or woman in high school, high school's about to finish — if they get to see people who look like them in the trades doing well, they can now visualize that there's something for me."
Skills for a shifting world
He recently hired apprentice Vincent Kennedy, another academy grad who is putting in the needed hours for his own certification.
Kennedy recently moved from Alberta to Nova Scotia and struggled to make connections. He heard about the academy, met Benjamin there on a Monday and started working for him that Wednesday.
"I would suggest that anyone can change their career, and especially in this world where things are shifting and moving it is important for you to acquire as many skills as possible," he said.
"Especially for us in the Black community, because we know we are starting from a place at the bottom and we should encourage each other and make a path for younger or even older people who want to join or make changes in their life."
Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard, the president of the academy and a founding member, said they celebrate "second-chance learners."
"We know there is a wage gap, but what do we do about it? How do we address it? How do we fix that wage gap? And the things that we're doing in the [East Preston Empowerment Academy], particularly with the red seal, the Deloitte study shows it's making a difference in terms of closing that gap," she said.
An academy born of one question
She said about 200 people have gone through the academy. Most leave to live richer, more rewarding lives, she said.
"When people are gainfully employed and earning money that matches their potential and their abilities, it has an impact on how you feel about yourself, how you see yourself. But not just on that individual; on that individual's family, and also community."
The academy started when Bernard was speaking to a group of Black men at the East Preston United Baptist Church about barriers they faced to the life they wanted. One man said he felt like he didn't have enough education. Soon, others joined him, and asked her to help.
She worked with Dr. LeQuita Porter, the church's pastor, and they started the East Preston Empowerment Academy in 2014. It has grown steadily since and she hopes others start similar groups across the country to bridge that economic gap.
The academy is funded by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Black Educators Association, the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency, the East Preston United Baptist Church and individual donors.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
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