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Colleen Orr, seen here on March 18, 2021, will be taking part in the Foundations in Banking Program by Toronto’s George Brown College to help BIPOC students build qualifications in business and financial services jobs.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

When Colleen Orr, a 28-year-old mother of two, found herself unemployed last year because of the pandemic, she started her own online business selling beauty products as a way to express her creativity and use her previous business and fashion credentials from Toronto’s Humber College.

This year, however, she found an opportunity to return to full-time work through a program launched at George Brown College, aimed at helping lower-income youth who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour build qualifications for careers in business and financial services.

“I could provide a better life for my family with this opportunity,” Ms. Orr said.

The Foundations in Banking Program is a partnership between the Toronto college, Royal Bank of Canada and the Pinball Clemons Foundation, and it offers an online 13-week training program to teach skills needed to work in the financial sector. The program received “strong demand” during the application process, but applications were capped at 32 given the number of limited seats, according to project manager Elizabeth Reid.

The program began on Feb 1. and has taken a cohort of 11 students from the applicants – six men and five women.

Ian Austin, the first Black dean of the George Brown’s business school, said the program came to fruition to serve the school’s diverse student body and create opportunities for marginalized individuals.

“It is not just a George Brown thing. It is a societal thing,” he said.

“We’re an educational institution. Beyond the programs that we offer, we also are mindful we are part of constructing a society,” Dr. Austin said. “And within that we have to recognize that there are inequities and that we have to then put programs in place to begin to address inequities.”

One of these inequities taken into account while planning the program was financial access. The cost of tuition for one student to enroll in the program is approximately $4,760, but the Pinball Clemons Foundation, co-founded by former Toronto Argonauts star Michael (Pinball) Clemons, will provide scholarships to cover each student in full. The foundation is a non-profit organization that “provides marginalized youth with educational resources and options to integrate into the mainstream of society,” its website says.

According to Dr. Austin, both the foundation and RBC signed onto the project with a “full commitment” to ensure that the program was sustainable for the participants’ careers and future students.

As a way to ensure participants have a pathway into the financial sector, RBC is also offering a seven-week, full-time paid internship to students as a part of the program, with the goal of integrating them into the company over the long term.

Michael Pavkovic, vice-president of payments and trade operations at RBC, said the internship experience allows students to try a hand at many different business responsibilities, including working side-by-side with various teams, processing domestic and international payments, speaking to clients and managing trade transactions.

“This [internship] directly supports their development goals of getting new skills, growing their network, and most importantly, writing their career story,” Mr. Pavkovic said in an e-mail.

Ms. Orr is at the internship stage of the program with RBC and said she hopes to soak up all the information she’s getting now and move forward.

“A lot of single moms feel like their life is over after they have children, and I just want to encourage them and let them know they can do anything they put their mind to,” she said. “Time management is everything, and you got this.”

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