As I celebrate 25 years working at EPC, I am amazed at how quickly the time has gone by. Starting twelve years after the organization opened its’ doors, I was present for a significant transition whereby our youth employment counselling center became a one-stop resource for job seekers of all ages. However, his story is not about me or EPC but instead focused on the founder of this progressive, client-centered not-for-profit organization, Bill O’Byrne. If you don’t believe that one person can make a dramatic impact on an entire community, I urge you to read on.
Bill started his career with the YMCA Counselling Centre of Toronto in 1971. This work experience not only ignited his passion and intrigue for the field but also allowed him to develop professional relationships that would impact his future success in the field. Dr. Gerald Cosgrave opened the first career and employment counselling centre in Canada in 1944 to assist principally with the reintegration of war veterans into the mainstream. Earlier he had been a professor at the University of Toronto and he eventually became the Executive Director of the YMCA Counselling Centre in Toronto. Bill built a relationship with Dr. Cosgrave appreciating both his friendship and mentoring.
In 1979, a Globe and Mail posting for a Community Career Counselling position with Fleming College caught his wife’s attention. While he was not actively looking for work, Bill was interested in a fresh start and moving on from the GTA. While living and working in Peterborough, Bill was an active member of both his geographic and professional community. While an attempt to create a college mobile career centre did not get off the ground, a community group did pursue a proposal to pursue government funding to address the high rate of inflation and youth unemployment that was occurring locally. Following seven revisions, Bill’s proposal was approved and Employment Planning and Youth Centre opened its doors on February 6th, 1982. It was important to Bill that the agency not have an institutional feel. While there was no local funding available to match the provincial contribution, he was able to negotiate community support including the use of the Jackson Park location rent free. Bill was appointed as the Executive Director where he remained, while continuing to work at Fleming College, for four years. With an initial staff of seven, a $250,000. budget and the most basic office equipment and supplies, EPYC became the 11th Youth Employment Counselling Centre in Ontario.
Youth Employment Centres (YECCs) could access provincial funding as long as it was matched by either in-kind or cash donations from the community. The ability to retain the interest earned from government funding supported the development of satellite offices and eventually the purchase of a building.
He fought for competitive wages for staff and envisioned a more wide-spread use of computers. He hosted a weekly radio station for two years where live interviews about youth employment issues where broadcasted on the local country radio station.
Bill worked at Fleming College from 1979 to 2006. During that time, not only was he the agency founder and Executive Director of EPYCC, he also developed the Career and Work Counsellor Diploma program which he taught for 19 years. His passion for the field, strong belief in the importance of accreditation, community engagement, innovative spirit and long-term vision dignifies him as a trailblazer and iconic pioneer for the industry, not unlike those he admired early in his career. He continues to reference Frank Parsons 1909 book “Choosing A Vocation” for his belief that people need assistance to determine where they fit in the world.
Despite his humbleness, Bill cites his success with the ability to start with a blank slate to create something and the professional network he developed during his career. In particular, he feels his relationships with Dr. Cosgrave and Frank Lawson played an instrumental role in his achievements including the opportunity for mentorship, development of friendships, unique insights into the field of career counselling and access to the funding that would one day allow him to open the agency now known as EPC.
The biggest changes he has seen over his professional career relate to technology with the use of computer and ease of access to information via the internet. Bill is proud of the growth in staff size, the agency’s ability to create economic improvement, the positive spin off effects that decreasing unemployment rates have on the community, along with the ability to increase the quality of client lives with the financial independence afforded by obtaining work.
Bill remains an active member of EPC’s Board of Directors where he shares the responsibility of managing the annual budget which currently stands at 14x larger than the original budget proposed for the agency in 1982. With their guidance, combined with EPC’s strong leadership, client-centred philosophy, talented and dedicated staff and diversity of services, we strive to honour Bill’s legacy and embrace the spirit in which the agency was created.