Philomena Purdon had made herself sick with worry.

Since moving to Barrie from Ireland (via Toronto and Bracebridge), she had joined the rat-race of the unemployed job seeker. She’d filled out so many applications she lost count. She photocopied resumes, hand delivered them with covering letters, hoping she’d get a call. She didn’t. She took on temporary work... any kind of temporary work while she hoped that her background in advertising and hotel management would somehow net her work in her new adopted country. She hoped that her mid-40’s age wouldn’t hold her back.

Irish by birth, Philomena expected that life in Simcoe County would be bountiful as long as she worked hard at whatever work she found.

But, it didn’t turn out that way. While she moved to Canada 12 years ago with a husband and two children, she moved to Barrie as a single mom with three children, determined to provide for her kids and work her way back into a lifestyle she could be proud of. She found a two bedroom apartment and joined the job-seeking ranks back in 1994 when she arrived in Barrie.

As the employee of a temp agency, she’d work anywhere they sent her, juggling babysitters to meet the demands of evening retail hours, trying to do an about-face with those arrangements when her shifts were changed at the last minute.

“I wanted to get back on my feet, back into a career I could grow with, and back into a life with reasonable expectations. But, I’d made myself absolutely sick with worry about the lack of work. That actually ended up being my saving grace,” she said one recent afternoon.

Her nerves shattered, she was off on sick leave and then shifted to employment insurance where she found herself at the Georgian College Career Centre with a career counsellor who took a real interest in her situation. The counsellor told her about the Targetted Wage Subsidy program, and took a look at her diverse and yet focussed background and felt sure there was a potential for great employment in Philomena’s future.

After a series of interviews, she was matched through the Targetted Wage Subsidy program with an employer who’d registered to hire people under this program. Targetted Wage exists to help employers fund new growth positions for their companies, permanent positions paying more than minimum wage that offers employees real employment growth.

Burnetts & Struch Scottish Regalia (on Patterson Road in Barrie) had also applied to hire employees under this program, so they could respond to an explosion in their business by hiring competent people and getting some assistance with their hourly wage costs.

When Margaret Struch purchased Burnetts from Bill and Georgina Barnett three years ago, the timing was right. Incredible growth followed several strategic business decisions, and Margaret met this growth by taking part in the federal government’s Targetted Wage Subsidy program. It lets her hire extra good people and pay them a decent wage while getting some wage funding help at the same time.

While Philomena was directed to Burnetts, it was by no means a done deal. She was applying along with several other TWS program applicants and experienced a round of interviews and its associated anxiety. Because she is familiar with the Scottish culture, and has a real appreciation for cultural diversity, and a background in advertising & marketing as well as customer service and tourism, Philomena offered great potential to Burnetts.

The match was made and Philomena began a learning curve that will likely continue forever. But, at Burnetts and Struch Scottish Regalia she feels like she’s come home. “When I first started here I was quite nervous... unsuccessful job hunting had destroyed my self esteem and I felt slashed to bits before I got here. But little by little my confidence has been returning and I’ve become a real part of this wonderful company,” she says.

“We’ve very specialized here. Everything is so precise and I have to be very detail-oriented to handle issues from styles to material qualities. It’s a fast paced place here... we outfit entire bands. We just got an order from the Disney folks for a certain number of kilts for a specific show. We do a lot of orders for most bands all over Canada and many in the United States. We do the clothing for weddings. We outfit golfers who want to play golf in full regalia. Because our fabrics are all wool, we don’t deal with many schools.”

Philomena explained that Burnetts has its own mill in Scotland, Loch Carron in Dalgeish, Scotland with some of their designer kilts coming from another mill. She says the store carries all the pieces, tartans, and coats of arms for different clans, suitable for framing. “It’s very deceiving from the outside, but this store is a very busy place,” says Philomena.

She is almost at the end of her subsidized time with TWS and will move into fully supported employment with Burnetts and Struchs Scottish Regalia. She’s spent the last few months learning a tremendous amount, and feels that she’s definitely come home.

“I’ve been allowed to become human again. I feel like I have a chance. My goal is to be an asset to this company. I hope I never have to look for a job again,” she says.

A good program, Targetted Wage Subsidy. Thank you, Margaret Struchs for seeking its help. And thank you, Philomena for sharing your story.

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