Bright Side of Business: Crossing guard program a good start for people facing barriers to employment

crossing guard
“They want to get involved in the community,” Jamie Kwong, executive director of the Ottawa Safety Council, says of crossing guards. “They want to make a difference, to work in their own neighborhood.” Photo provided by OSC.
Editor's Note

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success. The column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer.

2022-10-04

Every day on your commute, chances are you pass a crossing guard or two. Standing in their high-visibility gear, they cut a figure that, for many of us, reminds us of our school days. 

That’s no different for Jamie Kwong, who became executive director of the non-profit Ottawa Safety Council (OSC) in January 2022.

“Road safety is something all of us are impacted by, no matter if we drive a car, if we ride a bike, if we’re a pedestrian,” Kwong says. “To have a role that impacts the whole community and makes it safer for everybody, especially the vulnerable road users like children, seniors, cyclists — that’s very important.” 

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Currently in its 20th year of offering services to the City of Ottawa, OSC is a major employer, hiring more than 360 crossing guards to watch 280 intersections across the city. It collaborates with 150 schools, serving 2,000 students over 500 shifts.

“They want to get involved in the community,” Kwong says of the crossing guards. “They want to make a difference, to work in their own neighborhood.” 

Kwong and her team are putting their efforts behind hiring new Canadians and others facing barriers to employment to help them earn money while supplementing their resume in a flexible working environment. Currently, 30 per cent of OSC’s crossing guards self-identify as being from diverse communities. 

“For me, it’s really important to be reflective of the community that we serve,” Kwong says. “How can we do outreach better? How do we connect more with agencies that help and support new Canadians?”

To spread the word, OSC is currently working with Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, Hire Immigrants Ottawa and others.

“This is an opportunity that we want more people to be aware of,” Kwong says. “I think sometimes if you’re not on Indeed or if you’re not aware of our program, you (might not) realize it’s a paid opportunity that you can explore.”

And a crossing guard’s job is no small thing. In school zones across Ottawa, the speed limit is 30 to 40 kilometres per hour. Citing a study by Parachute Canada, Kwong says that, when a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle travelling at 30 kilometres an hour, nine out of 10 pedestrians survive. Increase that to 50 kilometres per hour, and only five out of 10 survive. By the time you’re at 65 kilometres an hour, that plummets to one out of 10 pedestrians. 

Kwong says that, unfortunately, over the past few years, the organization has seen an increase in distracted driving and speeding. She adds that some people don’t realize that the crossing guard program is part of the Highway Safety Act — when there’s a guard, cars have to stop.

“The (crossing guard) job has an inherent risk in it because the City has already designated that area needing an extra level of protection,” Kwong says. “(Drivers) need to have patience when kids or seniors are crossing.” 

At OSC, a crossing guard’s hourly pay starts at $17, up to $17.80. Kwong aims to get that up to Ottawa’s living wage of approximately $18.60. 

“In every job, I look at how we create opportunities for people,” says Kwong, whose career has taken her from the non-profit sector to entrepreneurship and the arts. “I see all the discussions right now of refugees settling in, Ottawa attracting refugees — I think that’s a great thing and what we need to do is find ways to connect people to the community.” 

The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.

This column is presented by Star Motors, Ottawa’s original Mercedes-Benz, Mercedes-AMG and Mercedes Van dealer.

Since 1957, Star Motors has provided its customers with the Mercedes-Benz “The Best or Nothing” standard in vehicle selection, service, genuine parts and certified collision repair.

For your convenience, you may shop, research, chat and compare vehicles online at starmotors.ca, visit the 400 West Hunt Club location or call (613) 737-7827 for the very best in personal service.

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