By: Lisa Taylor
In January 2012, Challenge Factory was just a few months old. As a new entrepreneur, I was learning a lot about myself and this new business I had created.
At the time, I knew Challenge Factory was not a pure HR practice and it wasn’t strictly about training or corporate learning. We charge fees for our services and often work with individuals who are employed, so publicly funded or non-profit employment services and retraining didn’t quite fit either.
In these early days, Challenge Factory focused on helping individuals challenge what they believed to be true about their own career future. I offered clients the opportunity to test-drive any career as part of an exploration process that recognized preconceived notions of jobs and the tie between current occupation and identity often keep people stuck in jobs that they hate for years. Challenge Factory’s approaches broke through these very real barriers with risk-free opportunities through day-in-the-life experiences. When the CBC filmed one of our clients test-driving B&B ownership for a DocZone documentary, I knew we were well on our way.
Back to January 2012. I had heard that there was a career-focused conference held in Ottawa that brought together career-focused academics, practitioners, non-profits and private companies. Called Cannexus, this conference would prove to be instrumental in Challenge Factory’s success – and in my own development as an entrepreneur. The trip to Ottawa marked my first business trip without corporate backing. It was the first significant investment I made on something intangible. I was travelling, learning and networking. It was exciting and terrifying.
I remember being overwhelmed by the program. Dozens and dozens of sessions all on topics that could only make my work better, led by professors and practitioners with decades of experience in career development. I remember sitting in those first sessions listening to the questions other attendees posed and having two reactions: (1) I have a lot to learn and (2) this is the eco-system in which Challenge Factory fits.
Challenge Factory remains a unique type of organization within the career development sector. But as the years have passed, I have come to appreciate that much of our success is because we approach topics related to the future of work, employment, careers, longevity and workforce planning with a distinct and informed career lens.
At every stage of Challenge Factory’s growth Cannexus has played a pivotal role. Connections made at the conference have led to new team members and associates joining the company. I learned about the availability of funding for career-related research projects at the conference which launched our research practice with our study into Veteran career transition. My first book Retain and Gain: Career Management for Small Business launched at Cannexus. In 2018, Challenge Factory sponsored an interactive community engagement zone. The resulting documentary and conversation guide have resulted in opportunities well beyond Canada’s borders.
Cannexus19 has just finished and I returned from my week in Ottawa exhausted, exhilarated and grateful. This year, I presented material from my newest book coming this April. I stood in front of a packed room and read aloud from The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work for the first time. This book acknowledges the significant body of knowledge that exists among career-focused academics, shares practical experiences from corporations and challenges every CEO, HR leader and front-line manager to see career development as the essential lens to make sense of an ever-changing world of work.
Canada by nature does not have a strong entrepreneurial culture. While there are many opportunities to connect and meet with other business owners, it is hard outside of the tech sector to find other early-stage entrepreneurs that dream really big about their business. As a participant in the 2017 Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), I learned that fewer than 5% of Canada’s small businesses export their goods and services. Cannexus conferences open my eyes to just how broad and significant career development work can be – at a local, national and international scale. It provides me with a community of peers that seek excellence in the services that are designed and delivered. It has introduced me organizations like the Canadian Council of Career Development Associations (3CD) and the Canadian Career Development Foundation where I am able to play a role and give back to the field nationwide and beyond.
Cannexus has grown alongside Challenge Factory. From that first year I attended with a few hundred delegates located within the hotel meeting rooms to the more than 1300 delegates that overtook Ottawa’s conference centre. This year, I introduced two colleagues to the conference, neither who, like me in 2012, identify as being part of the field of career development. They left hooked, recognizing the unique value the field brings to their work and the special community of practitioners that care deeply about how the world of work impacts individual Canadians and our country at large.
I am often asked why I started Challenge Factory – and it is a story I love to tell. But my favourite story is about how it is has grown and transformed over time and how, in return, it has challenged and changed me. I am not the same business owner that walked into the networking hall in 2012 wondering if anyone would understand what I was trying to build. Entrepreneurs needs to be tested to continually think bigger, go farther and take the risk. To me, Cannexus presents that annual challenge. To work hard and do great work that elevates our field so that at the next conference I can be generous and give back to this community. They certainly will never know just how much they gave to me in Challenge Factory’s earliest years. Between now and the next Cannexus my new book will launch, our corporate work will grow, new research projects will begin and I will have participated in a global symposium with 34 other countries.
It all started that cold morning in Ottawa at Cannexus12. For that I am most grateful and can’t wait for Cannexus2020.