A new education service has launched in the Brockville area, helping those looking to add job credentials or change careers.

The best part, it is all free.

Founded in 1986, Contact North has been providing distance education services to more than 1,300 communities in the province, with Brockville now home to their newest office.

"We started mostly to promote rural, francophone and indigenous communities but it's expanded across Ontario," said Barb Matthews, Contact North education and training advisor.

Contact North opened up a virtual service in town in 2021, and since December, almost 250 people have signed up to use the service. 

"They tell us what they are looking for and we are promoting online," Matthews said. "We tell them what's available, whether they want college or want to finish high school, or just upgrade some skills."

"We serve adults 18 and older and we've had students in their 80s," said Wendy Somerville, Director of Recruitment and Partnerships. "It just goes to show learning is life long."

The service helps those looking to take the next step in their career. For instance, if a person is interested in a personal support worker program, Connect North will present options that could be tuition free and help them enrol. 

Connect North will also help find financial aid assistance like OSAP, bursaries and awards to qualify for. 

"We have individuals looking for Microsoft courses or maybe they want a graduate degree," Somerville said. "(we) help them find out what textbooks they need, help them find out what the learning platform is, because schools offer different learning platforms, so we would give them an orientation on that learning platform."

Somerville says that online learning works because students can chip away at a qualification, like taking one course at a time instead of an entire course load for one semester.

"You can even take what we call micro credentials, so maybe its three or four courses, you get a certificate at the end and that's enough to get your foot in the door to find a job," she added. 

The success of their virtual services offered in 2021, Contact North was looking for a permanent location in the area. They've found one at the Employment and Education Centre (EEC) at 105 Strowger Blvd., holding a grand opening on Thursday. 

"We were thrilled that we could actually have a physical location because before that we were meeting in the library, Tim Horton's, wherever we could find a proper location to meet with students one on one," Somerville said.

"We couldn't be more thrilled that Contact North is living with us," smiled EEC Executive Director Sue Watts.

"Our role at the EEC is workforce development, the huge component that Contact North brings is the actual skill development and education piece," she said. 

"For us to be able to walk our job seekers down two doors and introduce them to an organization like Contact North is essential for every individual's success," Watts added.

She noted that the partnership works both ways, with people seeking education using Connect North, then using the EEC for employment opportunities.

Users are also able to work in the computer lab or from home with high-speed internet. A laptop loaning program will also be rolled out this summer.

"The pandemic has showed us that online learning and continual learning is essential as people are changing careers or looking at options that they have," Watts said. 

"We are boots on the ground," added Somerville. "We are in communities so individuals can come and meet with us and they can get their feet wet."

"And our service is free. So how great is that?" she added. 

More information can be found on their website, or by emailing or calling their Brockville office at 343-307-8397 or email brockville@connectnorth.ca.