Brian Oman is a baker without a bakery.
When the 27-year-old trained baker was laid off from his most recent job last fall, he decided he’d had enough of working for other people, and wanted to pursue his dream of running a wholesale bakery in Whitehorse.
He looked into the employment insurance self-employment program. The program is administered by the Yukon government through Dana Naye Ventures as part of the advanced education branch.
For those who qualify, the program will help you get your feet under your own business by paying a living wage for the first year, providing support while building a business plan and helping young entrepreneurs break into the world of working for themselves.
“It was great. I went to see them when I first got laid off. They decided that starting my own business was a good option for me, and helped me get the application process going,” Oman said.
It’s no simple process. In order to qualify, applicants must submit a feasibility study showing their business idea is sound and start developing a business plan to make it work. They also must be approved for employment insurance.
That last stipulation, Oman said, is a big catch-22. If you get laid off unexpectedly, as he was, and have no savings, employment insurance is supposed to be the safety net to catch you. But in order to qualify, you have to be looking for work. If you find work, you no longer qualify, which also means you don’t qualify for the self-employment program anymore.
“Basically you have to lie to the government on one side or the other. Either you don’t look for work and tell them you are, or you have to turn down work if you find it in order to stay qualified,” Oman said.
Over the course of about three months, Oman dedicated himself to getting everything in order without any money coming in. Because he couldn’t take any new job while retaining his eligibility for EI, he only got by thanks to support from his family.
“The only reason I’m in this house (a cabin without running water that he sublets from a friend) and able to buy groceries is because of my mom. If it weren’t for her, or if, like many people I didn’t have a family to rely on, I could never have done it,” he said.
Finally, he was ready. After the Christmas break he was going to take the plunge and start baking for a number of clients he had lined up. He even went Outside and to find a van he could afford to use for his deliveries.
But just when he thought everything was going well, he was told he had to abandon his plans.
The territory had suspended the program. Oman was crushed.
“I spent all this time working towards this. I could have taken another dead-end job, something to pay the bills, but those jobs are awful and you’ll never get ahead. That also would have disqualified me from EI. I felt like I’d wasted all this time and money,” he said.
He started asking for answers, and at first he didn’t get any. He emailed his MLA, Liz Hanson, and got no response. After a week of emails back and forth with the government, he managed to negotiate an exception. The Yukon government promised they would allow him to go ahead with the program even though it won’t accept any new applicants to the program for the time being.
At this point, Oman is still waiting to see if he qualifies for EI, but assuming he does, everything is a go.
The reprieve is a huge relief, Oman said, but he’s still not happy about all the government red tape he had to cut through to make his dream a reality.
Oman also emailed Ryan Leef, the Yukon’s federal member of Parliament, and had a meeting with him yesterday.
“He outlined a couple of good ideas. I’m always looking for efficiencies and ways to improve the program,” Leef said.
“He made some good recommendations, and I’ll take those back to Ottawa. He had some red-tape reductions that I think were good,” Leef said.
Even with all the headaches, Oman said he still believes in the program.
“I think it’s great in principle. It just needs some work. Some of the bureaucracy is slow and inefficient, but I wish more people knew it was out there to begin with,” he said.
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