Over the past few years the term “skills mismatch” has been coined as the preeminent challenge within our workforce. Essentially defined as "the emerging generations of the workforce and the current needs of employers are not in alignment". At first this term was more often applied to the skilled trades, but it has since spilled over to be a generalization.
Many of our member businesses express challenges in finding the right fit workforce for their needs. In a recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce report called the "Ontario Economic Report", the Business Confidence Survey revealed that 75% of respondents identified recruiting and retaining talent as most crucial to their business competitiveness.
So, we identified a problem - what are the possible solutions? One solution considered by many in government is engaging students before they enter the workforce through experiential learning opportunities. We have seen many recent budgets dedicating tax
dollars toward this.
Our friends at the Workforce Development Board/Local Employment Planning Council (WDB/LEPC) have been doing research on this topic and have just released a report titled "Experiential Learning: Building Blocks for Employers Success”.
Experiential learning is defined by the Ontario Ministry of Education as “learning beyond the classroom”. The ministry goes on to define that this can happen in a number of ways; understanding more about the industries they may want to pursue in the future; exposure to career options in industries they may not have known about or even considered; developing essential workplace skills; seeing how their in-class learning can be applied in the workplace; and, the ability to make more informed decisions about their education and career path so they make a successful transition into the job market.
All of this requires employer engagement. So, how can and do employers engage with students in a meaningful manner? This is the focus of the report by WDB/LEPC. The document includes four success stories from local employers in the fields of agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing and tourism. Also included in the report are seven handy tips for employers to consider before they enter the world of experiential learning.
Here are those tips:
1. Plan ahead
Consider where in the office or building the individual will be able to spend their time and who will be the primary point of contact. Some employers choose to pair students and job seekers with more senior staff who are able to provide mentorship and guidance
throughout the placement. Be sure you have enough work planned for the individual to stay busy for the duration of the placement and consider a variety of ways they may be able to add value to the daily operations or strategic priorities.
2. Find the right fit
Give some thought to the type of experiential learning opportunity that is most suited to your organization. For some workplaces, hosting a field placement might be impractical or logistically challenging as a result of safety or liability concerns, whereas engaging in a long-term research project could be very beneficial to the business. Before making a
commitment, consult with local partners and placement coordinators for advice and input on the right direction to take.
3. Reflect on timing
Timing is another key component to providing successful, mutually beneficial learning opportunities. Some organizations prefer to only offer internships that are a minimum of four months to provide enough time for the person to make beneficial contributions. Many stakeholders noted that providing short-term placements is sometimes less beneficial.
4. Be open-minded, but remain business oriented
Though this report is focused on the positive outcomes and benefits, it is equally important to acknowledge that not every learning opportunity will result in mutual benefits. It is recommended that employers enter into these experiences with an open mind and a committed attitude. However, at the end of the day, employers should also remain practical and business oriented and have a strategy in place if the placement does not go as planned.
5. Maintain ongoing dialogue and communication
Open communication between all parties involved in experiential learning is vital to the success of not only the placement, but also to the development of long-term
partnerships and the ability to resolve issues as they arise. The strength of the relationship between an employer, a faculty and its educators, and a student is indicative to the outcome of the experiential learning opportunity.
6. Document best practices and lessons learned
Following the conclusion of the experiential learning opportunity, reflect on what worked well and potential areas for improvement. Consider developing a manual that documents each of the steps involved with the orientation and onboarding of the student or job seeker. Next time your organization hosts a student, you can refer to the manual for guidance and direction. Another way to involve the student or job seeker is to have them contribute to the manual.
7. Leverage community partnerships & opportunities for coordination
A recommendation that clearly resonates with each and every stakeholder in experiential learning is to coordinate outreach efforts with employers. Employer
engagement that is done in isolation often results in duplicated efforts and poor uptake. Some institutions have formed experiential learning working groups or committees to ensure they are coordinating their outreach efforts. This is a strategy that will drastically reduce the risk of duplication and negative experiences for community partners.
The issue of recruiting and retaining talent has been identified by our Peterborough Chamber membership as a particular area of need. So, the Peterborough Chamber will continue to find ways to inform and put knowledge into the hands of members to help them in this space.