Half a year was all it took for three Black Toronto youth to find a new direction in a new career, thanks to a WoodGreen program that’s now looking for others to join them.
“I’m still taking it all in,” says Arthur Manyenya, a graduate of WoodGreen’s VFX program.
“It's just amazing that WoodGreen did all that — all for free — for us.”
Manyenya is one of 23 young people who recently completed the six-month visual effects course designed to help Black Toronto youth launch a career in digital tech.
Free program open to Black youth in GTA
After seeing an ad for the program on Instagram, 27-year-old Manyenya said he didn’t have high expectations that much would come of the opportunity, after having taken similar programs in the past.
“They usually gather people and train them for a couple of weeks and then they give you some form of skills,” he says, “but you never have assurances that after you finish the program that you would be fully prepared with the skills to actually work in the industry.”
But he thought he’d give it a try after learning of WoodGreen’s reputation and 85-year history of serving Toronto. Plus, his job search had stalled. Manyenya graduated with a degree in Web Design and Interactive Media from Humber College during the pandemic at a time when trying to break into an industry was especially difficult.
The VFX program is offered once a year to Black youth in the GTA ages 21 to 29 who are neither working nor attending school. The six-month course is entirely free and offered in partnership with The CEE Centre for Young Black Professionals. Students are supplied with a high-end laptop, second monitor and access to elite design software for the duration of the course. Classes take place online three evenings a week.
No experience necessary
Right away Manyenya says he knew the VFX program would be different.
“An industry professional dedicated a lot of time to teaching us. He took us to various workplaces and networking meetings to give us an idea of the work environment and the type of work we could do after the program.”
While applicants are expected to be comfortable dealing with technology, there’s no need for prior experience in the field.
“The way WoodGreen structured the learning made it seem very doable and realistic,” says Hamda Warsame, who also graduated from the program in December 2022. While she had studied Global Business and Digital Arts, many of the participants had no related training or post-secondary education of any kind.
“I really enjoyed the pacing,” says Warsame. “The instructor was very kind and understanding. He made sure that we understood the basics before moving forward and that made me want to learn because I wasn’t nervous or scared.”
Train for a career, not just a job
Warsame says her goal in taking the VFX program was to differentiate herself from other candidates in a competitive job market. Meanwhile, her classmate Rene Ashby says she was looking for a way to merge her creative and “eclectic” background with learning a new skill, all while not adding to her student debt.
Ashby had worked in the healthcare sector, studied film theory, dabbled in fashion, taught herself photography, and worked in modelling, music videos and video editing. She has an eye for composition but wasn’t sure that would be enough to succeed in visual effects editing.
“At first I didn’t think I'd be able to do it because it sounded extremely technical,” said Ashby, age 30.
“Turns out, I’m smarter than I gave myself credit for!”
Like Manyenya, Ashby had tried similar programs in the past.
“A lot of [them] don’t necessarily up your skills to the level of being a working professional. It’s more about training for a job than learning skills for a career.”
Financial and employment support from WoodGreen
Once a week participants meet one-on-one with a WoodGreen counsellor to ensure students have all they need to succeed both in the program and beyond.
“They would try to educate us on how to place yourself in a working environment and how to handle some of the sensitive issues that we will face as Black youth in the workplace,” says Manyenya.
The students all agree that they didn’t anticipate the level of support WoodGreen would provide during the VFX program, including financial. Participants receive a stipend to help offset some of their living costs and allow them to focus more fully on making the most of the learning opportunity.
“When we graduated, WoodGreen gave us a graphic tablet with a stylus to use for design. I didn’t have one for work and you really need it,” says Manyenya.
WoodGreen also gave participants access to professional digital editing software, which costs upwards of $10,000 to buy, or even $500 a year just to rent, says Ashby.
‘Making more than I’ve ever made’
Students participate in a six-week paid work placement at a local studio with the goal of obtaining permanent work in the industry.
Manyenya says his performance, work ethic and skill set have already impressed employers, resulting in multiple job offers just days after completing WoodGreen’s program.
“Now I work full-time as a compositor, which is something that I learned in the VFX program.”
Ashby is also on a bright path to a flourishing career, working in the Toronto division of a multinational VFX company.
“It’s full-time, benefits, work from home, paid time off, sick days. The whole package! So it’s really cool,” she says. “I’m making more than I’ve ever made and there’s a lot of growth potential in this industry.”
Building a network of young black professionals
Several of the classmates remain in close contact with one another, building a network of their own young black professionals that all began with the WoodGreen VFX program.
Asked what advice she’d give anyone considering applying for the May 2023 cohort of the VFX program, Warsame had this to say:
“I would say, 100% do it. I only gained from the program, I didn’t lose anything. I didn’t waste time. I left the experience with more knowledge, friends, connections, and a career! Even if you’re hesitant, honestly? Dive in!”
To find out more about the VFX Program or to apply, please visit our website.