Employer engagement in careers learning – Canadian style

During a recent visit to Canada, I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit a truly inspirational organisation dedicated to inspiring young people to make informed career decisions.

Halton Industry Education Council (HIEC) based just outside Toronto operates a range of projects all designed to engage students with exploring options and linking them with industry. The projects are simple, modestly resourced and yet highly effective and if we could recreate even a couple of elements of the projects here in the UK, the benefit for young people would be huge.

HIEC operates with a central ethos at its core: its job is to bring together industry, education and community. Operating for 25 years its success is clearly a result of not only the dedicated and passionate staff that run its career centre but also the strong partnerships with local education officials, local policy makers and employers of all sizes.

In England there is much discussion about the role of employers in careers learning. Whilst the value of exposing young people to the world of work through interaction with employers is great, in practice it’s not that simple. Having worked in employer engagement, I’ve seen some really great initiatives fall down because they rely so heavily on education professionals or employers setting up and running projects that they simply do not have the time to do effectively. They have the desire to get involved and deliver a valuable experience for young people, but the practicalities of competing priorities means that running their business or delivering on the teaching and learning criteria that they are measured on will always come first.

The model that I saw in Ontario removes this risk by putting the planning, development and arrangement in the hands of the dedicated team at HIEC. They provide a range of practical support and a structure which makes involvement in the projects hassle free and rewarding for both educators and employers.

Discussing the challenges of delivering career learning with Kelly and Michelle who run the organisation, many of the issues that they are trying to address are familiar. They are working in a landscape of trying to promote a range of pathways and face a similar challenge to ourselves in educating young people and parents that there are alternative routes into careers. They find young people being pushed to university pathways where there are other routes that are more suited to the young person and their intended destination.
They are trying to increase access to LMI to help young people, parents and educators better understand the opportunities available locally. For example, they have seen a lack of interest in manufacturing careers because young people and their parents believe that the industry is in decline locally. However, whilst traditional manufacturing roles have decreased there is high demand for technology based manufacturing roles.

HIEC are currently running four flagship projects.
Grade 8 Program
Every Grade 8 student in the Halton school board area takes part in a careers awareness program delivered at the career centre. On the day that we visited, a group from Mother Teresa Elementary in Oakville were taking part in the project. Seeing students being guided through exercises where they learnt more about their personality, skills, interests and values and the role that these elements can play in helping them to determine their post-secondary pathways and future occupations was great. Using quiz sheets and card games the students were engaged in thinking about different options and when it came to exploring with careers information, there was a race to fill in their own careers factsheets. The session was facilitated by a careers counsellor who provided structure to the activity but was also on hand to provide advice and guidance to students who had specific questions. The really nice thing about the way this program is structured is the flexibility. It acknowledges that not every student will be ready to do detailed exploration so students are encouraged to go just as far as they are comfortable with. In the group that I observed there were some who came out of the exercise with specific career ideas such as architect, whilst others had just identified an area that they were interested in finding out more about such as healthcare. There was also limited pressure on their teachers. Two class teachers had accompanied the group on their visit to the careers centre and whilst they were involved, they didn’t have the pressure of running the session or being bombarded with questions which fell outside of their area of expertise. This is a common problem in the way careers learning is being delivered in England. Over the last 12 months I have spoken to a number of schools where careers is being delivered by form tutors who feel unprepared to lead the sessions and follow up on student queries regarding careers.

The session based at the careers centre is followed up with activities in school which HIEC designs and provides a structure and resources for. Again this makes the whole ‘transaction’ as easy as possible for the school.

School to Career
Students in Grade 11 and 12 are encouraged to take part in a Specialist High Skills Credit Program. As part of the program students take part in a placement which extends classroom learning into business. The opportunity to experience the workplace helps students discover their options and gather the information they need to make informed decisions. The program increases students self-knowledge while developing valuable transferable skills and gaining an understanding of the importance of attitude, teamwork and personal management skills in the workplace.
The program has real currency in schools with students getting recognition on their diploma for taking part in the experiential learning program.

The online community allows employers to register at a single point and covers a range of engagement activities from one off career talks to job shadowing and apprenticeship opportunities. Started as a way of reducing the amount of time that employers spent dealing with requests from individual schools and young people about work experience, the platform brings employers together with tomorrows workforce allowing them as much or as little commitment as they need but all with minimal overhead for themselves.

This platform matches potential apprentices with employers looking to develop new employees in skilled trades across the whole of Ontario. With 10,000 employers registered it provides a centralised resource which makes recruitment easy for both employers and young people.

All of the projects are delivering real benefits not only to young people but also to employers and the wider community. Testament to that is the fact that the organisation attracts its funding from a wide variety of public and private sources.

In some ways the projects are similar to those that were run by Education Business Partnerships in England; however withdrawal of public funding resulted in the end of many of these.

However, with the UK government championing the role of employers in supporting young people with career exploration and learning activities, surely it’s time to look again at investment in support and structure to facilitate this work.

The example that I saw in Canada evidences the value of this. HIEC makes it easy for both employers and schools to engage in activity that helps young people to make informed decisions about their future.

And the importance of informed decisions is clear when you consider a fact that HIEC presents to those that it works with. You are likely to work for around 80,000 hours in your lifetime, that’s 5 times the length of time spent in school (kindergarten to Grade 12) so it’s important to make sure that you choose something that you enjoy.

2 thoughts on “Employer engagement in careers learning – Canadian style

  1. Whilst there did you get an understanding of how such a project is financed?

    I run a specialist apprentice recruitment service which relies on results-based payments from training providers. In our experience, providing flexibility is key as employers all have their own preferences in how they recruit.

    Sadly it appears that mainstream education has much to learn in the area of apprenticeships and vocational learning which has the knock-on effect of poorly managing the expectations of school/ college leavers.

    What’s left of the careers advice service doesn’t spend nearly enough time with local employers. If they did, they could feedback to students on what is needed in their local areas.

    A good start would be to ask services like ours to spend more time in schools as we spend a large part of our time with employers. We’re mostly kept at arms length as many schools believe the current advisers to be effective, when they’re anything but.

    A common misunderstanding with apprentices is that they don’t have to work hard for the employer and that working towards the qualifications is enough. It’s my belief that this stems from a lack of understanding about the workplace thanks to the demise of the work experience service.

    The schools’ response to the RPA legislation leaves a lot to be desired, but that probably deserves its own topic…


  2. Annette’s blog on her Canadian experience is remind me of the kind of support that those of us lucky enough to work in North Tyneside had from the EBP and Tyneside Careers a number of years ago. There is an ongoing division between those who feel that this kind of “not delivered by teachers in daily contact with the learner” provision is superior due to lack of bias and overall professionalism and those who believe that it is essential that teachers and schools recognise this as a core part of their job and devote the necessary time and energy to it.

    Groups such as Business in the Community do exist and along with Young Enterprise they provide a valuable resource – just so long as the School puts a high enough priority on their work to go out and get involved and so long as the full range of learners opt in. A “universal service” approach does prevent this kind of enrichment becoming the preserve of the middle class but it may curtail the most innovative approaches.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s