In today’s world, job security isn’t always a reality. The market often shifts, the economy fluctuates, or you may suffer personal setbacks. How does one get back on their feet, especially during a pandemic ? Mathieu Gagnier, General Director of Groupe Priorité Travail, and his team, offer Laval residents a host of solutions.

Company Mandates
Gagnier’s own mother founded the company back in 1998. Gagnier had studied marketing, advertisement, and human resources, and was working in another field at the time. At one point, his mother needed someone to coach one of the teams, and Gagnier took on a three-month contract. But once that contract expired, he realized how much he loved this line of work. So he learned the business inside out and has since taken over the company. Cut to today, and he’s been there for 15 years. And for the past three years, he’s been serving as General Director.

Groupe Priorité Travail is a non-profit organization that offers free services to its clientele. Its chief mission is to be a permanent resource centre for Laval job seekers. Within this objective, there are many mandates affiliated with Services Québec. Some examples include CV writing, career guidance, skills profile, networking, an English Job Search Club and assisted job placement. Groupe Priorité Travail is not a placement agency, but instead brings together a pool of resources. The company helps job seekers cultivate their own ability to both improve and market their skills. The end goal ? To secure satisfying employment.

The Team
Gagnier is quick to credit his team with the company’s success. The team is stable and loyal and consists of 18 people including employment counsellors and three guidance counsellors. The atmosphere is professional and friendly, all designed to help clients feel at ease.

The services are reserved for Laval residents exclusively. Prospective clients can phone the company and ask for an appointment, and depending on the needs, they may get referred to certain services by Emploi Québec. Almost the whole team is bilingual, and all services are offered in both languages with the exception of high school equivalency, which is only offered in French for the moment. Some services are on an individual basis, while others may be in a group setting. At times, it may be helpful to listen to and benefit from other people’s stories.

For Gagnier, this type of work has its own rewards. “My favourite part of the job is that we get to help people,” he says. “Our clients are real people facing real challenges. It’s not just helping them spruce up their CV, it goes much further than that ; we help them get back on track with their lives.”

A Second Chance
This attitude is what makes all the difference. Groupe Priorité Travail doesn’t discriminate and opens its doors to any Laval resident who’s serious about bettering their situation. The target clientele is varied. It could be someone who has trouble keeping their job due to drug or gambling addictions. It could be engineers and pharmacists who lost their jobs. Or it could be someone who dreams of starting up their own company. Whether people suffered personal or professional setbacks, Gagnier and his team believe they all deserve a second chance.

Sometimes it’s as simple as finessing a CV. It may only require one appointment to help get the client on their way. Other times, the issue runs much deeper. Clients may need to come in weekly for several months in order to make certain adjustments.

Regardless of the severity of the case, the team’s job is to help clients get back on their feet and learn to see challenges as opportunities. Whatever the journey entails, Groupe Priorité Travail can only do part of the work. The rest is up to the client. After all, finding a job is a full-time job in itself. It requires effort and dedication.

One Step at a Time
That level of introspection can be challenging for many. That’s why Gagnier keeps a realistic perspective on things. “When a row of Dominoes falls, don’t try to put them back up at the same time,” he explains. “That won’t work, and may feel overwhelming. Instead, put them back up one at a time. It’s all about baby steps.” This is the philosophy Groupe Priorité Travail adopts.

Some clients require guidance before they can embark on this process. Gagnier fondly remembers a client who wanted a steady job but couldn’t manage their time because of childcare. Gagnier and his team helped them find an adequate daycare nearby, and that simple act helped reorient them in the right direction. Other clients may need help dealing with an eviction notice, personal issues, or perhaps they need help learning how to budget their money. In every case, it’s about being honest and taking care of personal issues first before focusing on the job search.

Gagnier is careful to always maintain a practical approach. “It’s about achieving attainable and realistic goals,” he says. “There may be times when we may have to burst someone’s bubble, but we always take a look at the market and at what’s possible. We’re transparent at every stage.”

Knowing your Options
Being aware of your options is also essential. Gagnier notes that many people don’t know about the various services available to them. For example, one particular client had immigrated from Russia and was trained as a dentist in his hometown, but his education wasn’t recognized here. Instead of continuing his career as a dentist, he settled for the first job he could find as a woodworker. He was a single father and had to provide for his children.

Once he met with guidance counsellors at Groupe Priorité Travail, he realized he had other options. He went back to school at night for dentistry, and in the meantime, took on a job in his field as a sales rep for dental equipment. A few years later, he obtained his equivalencies and began to work as a dentist once again.

These kinds of stories warm Gagnier’s heart. Over the years, he witnessed many clients who feel trapped, or wish their lives had turned out another way. Gagnier and his team are there to remind them that it’s never too late. People can still return to school later in life or even start a new job at 50. If you look hard enough, there are options and opportunities to better your situation.

Job Searching during a Pandemic
Luckily, Groupe Priorité Travail’s work is considered essential. They continue to offer their services during the pandemic, though they had to make certain adjustments and remain flexible to the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19. The offices are equipped with plexi-glass, arrows on the floors help direct traffic, and masks were mandatory from the beginning. In addition, some employees conduct their meetings virtually. Clients and employees alike feel safe with such precautions.

The team at Groupe Priorité Travail is grateful to be able to continue offering their services. Securing employment and dealing with job setbacks is more crucial than ever these days, given the economic and social climate.

Gagnier also notes that this line of work is not only satisfying for the clients, but also, for him and his team. They get to see their clients evolve and succeed. “I feel privileged to live a good life,” he says. “I wake up with a smile on my face and I enjoy going to work, my employees are happy, and we all feel like we’re making a difference.”