October 25, 2002

This marks the 12th year, that the Woman's Employment Resource Centre (WERC) has been helping women to gain the skills and confidence to overcome barriers.  Women arrive with feelings of uncertainty in the work place and are immediately welcomed into this unique and special family.  "Every person we help is different," said Maggie McDonald, the Executive Director.  "Some women haven't worked in a long time, others after years and years with the same company, lose their job and don't have the confidence to find another one."

WERC is truly a remarkable place where women can learn computer skills, job-hunting techniques and interpersonal skills.  Seventeen courses are currently available, along with a successfully run, Industrial Sewing and Manufacturing Program.  The program called, WERC Place Training, is a six-month, full time certificate program that teaches women the trade of industrial sewing and provides employment upon completion of the program.  Women learn sewing skills, pattern making, layout and cutting, while focusing on transferable life skills, such as math, computer skills and effective communication.  Once training has finished, sewing graduates are able to continue working for WERC, building confidence in a less pressured work environment.  Many graduates eventually move to alternative opportunities or self-employment.  It's a true win-win situation.

Yet, teaching women how to sew is only part of the life skills introduced through this program.  Women are exposed to a real work environment, their attendance and punctuality is monitored and they are required to work as a team to solve problems.  As they work towards independence, they discuss how changes will impact their families and they learn to make choices that will empower their lives.  "For some women, sequencing a task, or basic math in the workplace is challenging.  We are teaching them how to think for themselves and deal with the choices they make.  They don't always make the right choices, but we're there to continue supporting them." said McDonald, who would like to see the centre open after 5:00 p.m. to provide services for underemployed women that work during the day.

The WERC Place Training project originally started in 1996, after detailed research of the textile market.  WERC identified a need for plus-size clothing and required financial support to get the project off the ground.  The Oxford Small Business Support Centre, located in Ingersoll, stepped in to help.  "Their funding came through at a critical time for us.  We couldn't have done it without them, they believed in us and others followed." said McDonald.  "Tom Schafer of the Oxford Small Business Support Centre is wonderful.  He believes in what we are doing and we know that he'd help in any way possible," said Ruth Johnston, WERC Business Developer.

The OSBSC has provided over twenty thousand dollars of financial support, for WERC's sewing project.  Support, which has allowed WERC to purchase industrial machinery, hire a pattern developer and move into a larger location.  The results were staggering; WERC doubled their income.  Today, the sewing project continues to thrive and has generated a profit for the last two years.  Becoming self-sufficient is crucial for non-profit organizations, as it ensures that programs can continue, if funding cutbacks were to occur.  Recently two non-profit organizations, The Riverdale Immigrant Woman's Centre and The Somali Women's and Children's Support Network, have visited WERC in order to emulate their success.  Ruth Johnston, believes that the textile industry is returning to Canada and other non-profit organizations can benefit from this industry.  "Retailers are looking for unique products and are concerned with the quality produced by U.S. firms.  There's a growing need for Canadian goods and we are looking forward to additional contract work.  We employ home sewers, but in the past it's been a challenge to keep them busy.  Consistent contracts will allow us to grow and our profits to soar." said Johnston.

The accomplishments of WERC don't end there.  Every year, over 600 women in all stages of life, reach out for assistance with work skills.  Their results speak for themselves:  over 60% of the women who have received help through WERC, hold part time or full time employment, 12% return to school for continued education and 5% are gaining experience through volunteering.  So, whether it's help with a resume or learning a brand new skill, WERC offers a safe and secure environment for women to flourish and survive in an ever-changing world and we can only hope that other organizations learn and follow their example.

For more information on programs and services, call (519) 421-2077 or browse

To purchase women's clothing size 18 to 8x, visit WERC's retail store called Imogene's, at 426 Dundas Street, Woodstock