Mark Clairmont |

MUSKOKA — People often wonder why there are so many “Hiring” and “Workers wanted” signs in business windows.

Jack Symka, manager of the South Muskoka Literacy Society, says employers are looking for help that in Muskoka too often isn’t qualified enough to fill those jobs.

The local labour pool at the entry level is particularly challenged.

Even for the most basic jobs go unfilled for various reasons including education.

Thus the proliferation of job postings.

Not because well-intentioned workers aren’t looking to be employed.

But because they lack some of the most simple skill-sets.

That’s where Symka and the Literacy Society come in.

Or more accurately where workers looking for a job come in to the SMLS.

Symka says the “job reality is you need basic skills to be successful in any type of work.”

It’s that foundation that some — not all — are missing.

Jack Symka, manager of the South Muskoka Literacy Society, says help is available for anyone needing and wanting to upgrade their basic educational skills one-on-one to get a better job and learn more about how to learn and stay connected and better communicate in a digital world. SMLS is located on Gravenhurst’s main street at Muskoka Road and Veterans’ Way. Call him at 705-687-9323. And their website is

“Some are so far in the hole it’s hard to admit,” says the retired educator whose office on Muskoka Road South at the intersection of Veterans’ Way is at the epicentre of the busy and demanding commercial main street of Gravenhurst.

It’s blocks away north and south from Employment North and the District of Muskoka Ontario Works office.

So he sees and knows of what he speaks.

But digging out of that hole is the first step toward employment, self confidence and self-sufficiency.

Many adults are “so turned off” by the school setting, he says, that even adult learning centres are still too large. So they find private tutoring works best.

Often they haven’t completed enough high school credits for a diploma.

Once the Literacy Society was simply about the 3 Rs — reading, writing and arithmetic help for young adults over 18.

Today, a mandate change about five years ago now sees it now as a job-readiness partner for any age or anyone requiring similar assistance.

So if there’s a will — there’s Literacy Society way.

It’s those “soft skills” employers require, says Symka, which SMLS assists with, with mostly one-on-one training.

Call it pre-requisite training for applying for a job or getting by in a fast-moving computerized world.

Filling out an application can be daunting — even beyond also understanding the details of a rent or lease agreement.

It’s that ability to service customers’ needs that employers complain is missing, Symka hears from those hiring.

“The day-to-day initiative and interaction with the employer, fellow workers and the public.”

The Literacy Society office offers private one-on-one tutoring and goal-planning in Gravenhurst with extra private training centre space downstairs below the office reception here.

Working with its funder Employment Ontario, Ontario Works and employers and private job search referral companies like Employment North, the Literacy Society sits down with anyone wanting a job or related skills to enhance and enrich their lives.

It begins with an informal assessment to guide the learning process and set easily attainable “milestones.”

Six weeks is a typical working plan, though more help is available beyond that to achieve other goals.

While winter and summer are slow times for the Literacy Society due to weather and seasonal employment, fall and spring are its busiest times with 100 people undergoing coaching and training at any one time.

Symka kept the doors open mostly through COVID — with a little remote help. But because most in need usually only have a cellphone and not a laptop or computer it was more difficult to schedule work sessions.

It’s not just young adults who benefit for SMLS.

About a quarter of those Symka’s staff help are seniors who take advantage of modernizing themselves to return to the workforce or keeping up with digitalization to stay connected with family and friends and use social media.

Ask Symka how the Literacy Society can help you.

They also offer remote-site training at churches and community halls in small group settings throughout South Muskoka.

Symka also offers programming at the federal Beaver Creek prisons in Gravenhurst.

Literacy levels, says Symka, remain high yet. Public school reading levels still exist. And level two proficiency is even somewhat common.

Achieving that comfort level to compete for good jobs is more essential than ever as many work requirements are that employers either be able to communicate well or operate more sophisticated equipment.

Employers are picky, says Symka.

But that’s not impossible to meet their many needs with a little help from the Literacy Society in a friendly, safe, non-judgmental environment.

Learning is a lifelong pursuit for everyone, says Symka, which anyone can enjoy and help move up the job ladder with.

The SMLS phone number is 705-687-9323 or their website is


29 years of ‘Local Online Journalism’

Twitter: @muskokatoday, Facebook: mclairmont1

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