Earlier this week I attended the Opportunity for All Youth (OFAY) Hiring Event at Albion Library; the inaugural event of a series to support this national initiative.

Opportunity for all youth

OFAY is an employer-led, national effort aimed at hiring NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) youth 16-29 years of age who face barriers to opportunities for employment. Canada has approximately one million of them. 400,000 of which are actively seeking jobs. This employer coalition is planning on changing that.

Founded by Starbucks and MaRS Solutions Labs, OFAY partnered with the Federal government and is led by Richard Derham. The employers include Starbucks, Walmart, Chipolte, HSMHost, Tridel, The Source, Teleperformance, Coast Capital Savings and TELUS who along with  community employment agencies, are working together to find a solution to this “quiet crisis.” OFAY is a great example of collaboration as innovation which recognizes that we need all of the players to solve complex social challenges. That’s what makes this partnership unique. It’s apparently unprecedented in Canada. The coalition will also work with the City of Toronto’s Partnership to Advance Youth employment (PAYE)  – of which Tridel is a partner and Board member.

ofay mars

Part of the mission of the group will be discovering what works best, piloting new approaches and sharing the learning with other employers across the country in order to amplify the collective impact. The coalition truly considers themselves to be a community of learning. Their target is big.  To hire 40,000 youth over the next five years. I’d say they’d adhere to one of my favourite principles, that if your goals don’t scare you – they’re not big enough. If we’re successful, the end result will deliver positive change in corporate hiring, employment services as well as employment data and measures that support it.

ofay cbc

The agenda for the event allowed me to participate in two round tables – the first with combined Executives and NEET youth, where we had the opportunity to learn about challenges that youth face finding employment and to hear their perspectives as to what employers can do to enhance the experience of recruiting, hiring and managing them.

The people were brave and the stories were real. They were inspiring and sometimes even raw, wavering on the very fine line of being authentic and yet allowing themselves to be vulnerable. The insights were golden. Here are a few of them that I personally noted, that more companies should consider:

  • Recruitment is broken. While we try to digitize our interview process and think we’re building in efficiencies, it’s somewhat broken. Youth crave face to face. They want the opportunity to tell their story, to allow you to put a face to their name and make an in person connection with you and recruiters. Otherwise, they feel lost in the pile of applicants. (So much for our assumption that youth prefer devices to real people, and that they aren’t capable of human interaction & communication).
  • Never too early to start. They want you to target them when they’re in elementary school. Educate them about the opportunities that are available and the experiences that they can participate in to prepare them for career choices. Early. Teach them basic life skills in school. Time management, money management, collaboration, accepting feedback. Grade 12 and high school are too late. They want you to talk to them earlier.
  • Don’t go at it alone. Collaborate with agencies where you can easily find them. The stories that were shared about Yonge Street Mission, YES and bizstart were incredible. Work together.
  • Show what you stand for. The youth at the table expressed clearly that they want to know that they’re working for a company whose values align with their own. Put your values front and centre when offering employment.
  • Do what’s right, not easy. Sometimes corporations make the easier choice of candidates that haven’t faced barriers. They might feel there’s a stigma to their background and/or history. There may be some extra work required to manage and support them. (To that, I referenced the challenges that these youth have overcome and the resilience that it represents. Isn’t that what you want to see more of in your company?)
  • Extended Family. If you have a corporate culture that provides community and a sense of belonging, many of these youth who apply for entry level positions will develop a strong loyalty toward the companies they work for.  Their motivation goes beyond money, and is rooted in deeper values, often the comfort and support of a larger family of employees, that many of them have never known.
  • Go deep. Some corporations are superficial and have a tendency to look only at the surface.  The first things you might notice, and that are “different” – tattoos, piercings, hair – are not a reflection of talent (or lack of it).
  • Just believe. Some of these vulnerable youth are “down on their luck” in their words. By being provided with an opportunity and shown that someone is willing to believe in them, they are then able to better believe in themselves, and turn their lives around. They likely didn’t have that.

The subsequent Executive round table of the OFAY Employer coalition, was chaired  by Ilse Treurnicht, former MaRS CEO. Starbucks President Michael Conway  did an excellent job leading the discussion. I might add that while he facilitated the discussion and Starbucks was the front runner on this, he most humbly declared that all decisions are shared decisions moving forward. We discussed future concerns, “key take-aways” from the prior round table, next steps, ways in which leadership can continue to support the initiative and finally, what metrics will prove our success.

Having a chat with Michael Conway and the Starbucks crew

The day was a success, to say the least. We were pleased to have representation from Delmanor, Tridel and BOLT. We conducted over 100 interviews, and felt privileged rather than obligated, to stay there long after the library doors had closed and ensure that everyone had an opportunity.  We have a history of supporting initiatives that connect youth with opportunities for education and careers in our industry. But the stories shared by NEET youth showed me that this will be an even more critical aspect of our corporate identity as we move forward.

In addition to networking and meeting employers, 300 youth had the incredible opportunity to participate in a Town Hall with our Prime Minister.  Their questions reflected their talent, wisdom and potential. In the words of Tridel’s Danielle Feidler who has worked closely with the coalition, “After years of hard work and planning, it is wonderful to see such an auspicious introduction into the world at large with no less than the PM himself to grace the event and bring it to the level of attention it deserves.”

This is merely the beginning as the coalition talked about different industries in different markets. Already, it’s expected to branch out to Montreal and Calgary.

We look forward to the progress that awaits us. We have the right players at the table so far, and we know that it’s only solvable by working together. Sometimes, we work at odds and can’t see the forest through the trees, so to speak. The irony of the “war on talent”  is that we have companies that are having difficulty filling jobs, at the same time that we have young talented people, that are searching for jobs.  We merely need to marry the two to deliver the best possible outcome for people, companies, our economy and our country.




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