Machine Operator Turned Support Worker Gets ‘a New Direction in Life’

Several months after an invasive neck surgery was performed and following years of working as a bobcat operator, Justin Arcand lay awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering what his future held.

“I really had no idea what I was going to do. My doctor had written a note saying I needed to change jobs.”

Arcand thought back to his first job at the now closed Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, where he was a Security Guard and First Aid attendant, working closely with the institution’s special needs patients. At the time, in his early twenties, he’d hoped to someday become a firefighter or paramedic.

“I liked helping people and I was good at being a First Aid attendant. I didn’t panic.”

Nearly five years later, despite training and volunteering, Arcand hadn’t reached his ultimate goal yet, and he was offered a Machine Operator position at a steel foundry that would train him and pay a lot more. He took the job.

Fast-forward almost 15 years and Arcand was in Vernon on medical EI following the c-spine fusion surgery he needed after operator work led to progressive neck damage.

One day, he found himself inside the Resource Centre on the ground-level floor of Community Futures. A staff member listened to his story, recognized that he might qualify for one-to-one employment support and job re-training through WorkBC. Before long he was sitting across from his Case Worker.

“She was great. We would have meetings and we would look up different types of jobs and find out how many jobs there would be in the future for different kinds of work.”

Thinking back to Riverview, to patients’ struggles and smiles, Arcand and his Case Worker Hallie determined he would make a fantastic Health Care Assistant. It so happened the training was offered at Sprott-Shaw College in Kelowna, and he met all the requirements to have WorkBC fund the seven-month course; this would include living and traveling expenses which would help support him and his teenage son during his return to school.

“The timing was good and the right people were there to help me. It basically saved me,” says Arcand. “It was a great experience. It gave me a new direction in life.”

“It was a great experience. It gave me a new direction in life.”

Now he began the hard work of going back to school, and learning all the materials on a computer as the program had just switched from textbooks to laptops.

“It was stressful at first but I got the hang of it. The workload, I didn’t know if I could do it at first. I would go to school for five hours, and then do four hours of homework. I started getting good marks, and I then I felt more confident and I thought, ‘I better keep this up.’”

Arcand graduated with honours and already had a job lined up doing Community Support Work with an agency in Vernon.

Today, he spends his days helping clients do everything from going to the bank and for walks to shopping and finding work.

“It’s rewarding to help them because without us their lives would be more limited,” says Arcand. “I was in a truck or on a construction site for a long time, so it’s a big change but I’m getting used to the industry again. I’m just beginning my career.”

Do you know someone on medical EI who would benefit from employment support and training? Visit us to find out if they qualify for WorkBC support and resources offered at Community Futures North Okanagan!


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