Coming to Toronto all the way from Melbourne, Australia for a six-week internship was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but a decision I have no regrets about making. Interning at Challenge Factory this summer exposed me to a whole new environment and working culture as I explored the day-to-day operations and roles of a HR intern/employee.
I entered this internship wanting to experience real life work and put all the knowledge from my studies into practice. While I learned all about working in teams and maintaining open communication with peers as well as time-management skills and self-confidence, a highlight of my internship would have to be the opportunity to organize and participate in a career development program with the other interns. This program is one that many other students my age do not have the opportunity to experience prior to the commencement of their careers. It has filled my mind with many new options and career paths. I now feel in control of my own future.
I hope to someday return to Toronto and visit the Challenge Factory team, as I cannot thank them enough for all their support, encouragement and wisdom they’ve provided over the course of my internship.
Bonus: Click here for my personal video journal about my experience.
Hello! My name is Nicole and I was the Research Intern at Challenge Factory this summer. I’d like to share my recruiting experience and the projects I worked on over the past four months.
How I Got Here
My recruitment process was quite untraditional. As a Queen’s commerce student, significant emphasis was placed on landing a summer internship in September during on campus recruiting. Many of my peers received offers from multinational corporations, and I found myself applying to roles simply because everyone else was doing the same. My actual interest was in strategy, but I had heard that consulting internships were rare for second-year students. After spending most of September feeling defeated, I stumbled upon a job posting that changed my entire summer trajectory.
Since I am pursuing a certificate in Social Impact, I had access to an exclusive job opportunities board. A boutique consulting firm posted a role and I got in touch with the founder. During our initial phone call, we discussed the potential of a full-time summer internship, as well as a part-time position during the school year. It was exactly what I wanted! My job search was over, or so I thought...
In mid-March, I was informed that the internship was no longer available. I had believed that the position was guaranteed, when it was actually contingent on other business factors. This situation highlights my first lesson for anyone going through the recruitment process:
No job is confirmed unless both parties sign a written contract.
I thought that an oral agreement was binding enough. Luckily, the founder was sympathetic towards my situation and forwarded my resume to the entire network of organizations connected to the Centre for Social Innovation, which yielded several interviews. After three weeks of stress and uncertainty, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from Challenge Factory. This leads me to the second lesson I want to share:
Everything happens for a reason.
I know this can sound cliché but let me explain. I remember feeling worthless and undesirable because I could not seem to land a single position, even though I knew competition for the spots were high and that I was not truly interested in many of the positions I was applying for. Looking back, I am grateful for every rejection, because each one brought me closer to a role that I did not even believe was attainable as a second-year student: Doing research and strategy work at a consulting firm focused on the future of work. The next time an application doesn’t work out, think of it as a step toward to something that will be better suited for you.
What I Worked On
My first project revolved around preparing Lisa, the President of Challenge Factory, for a trip to Norway where she was on a team representing Canada at an international symposium. My work involved creating deliverables such as creating a decision matrix for evaluating potential Norwegian partners and clients and analyzing data from reports submitted by the 34 participating countries.
However, the most challenging task was guiding the creation of a keynote presentation Lisa delivered at the symposium. How could we accurately integrate insights from each national report, while being sensitive to the language, communication and cultural context of delegates from 34 different countries? After several iterations and edits, I was able to collaborate with Kelly, Challenge Factory’s marketing intern, in using concepts of universal design to create the presentation. Lisa shared that the presentation was very well-received, with many country delegates expressing gratitude for how the slides helped make a complex discussion accessible. This leads the next lesson I learned:
Always know your audience.
The audience you cater to shapes everything about your deliverable, from your approach and content, to your language and visual presentation. We were only able to convey our message after considering how each slide could be interpreted under different cultural lenses and perspectives.
For my second project I was tasked with writing a scoping report to determine the viability of a new version of Retain and Gain for public sector managers. Retain and Gain is a series of playbooks written by Lisa and published by CERIC, with the purpose of providing actionable steps for managers to attract and retain talent. In order to assess the viability of the publication, I needed to conduct primary research by interviewing leaders in federal, provincial and municipal agencies.
My report was recently submitted to CERIC and is moving through the approval process. It is exciting to know that my work this summer can lead to the creation of a new Playbook in coming months. To stay updated on its process, click here to subscribe to the Challenge Factory newsletter. The key takeaway I learned throughout this project was:
The size of the company you work for does not determine the size of your impact.
Every step I completed during the scoping process directly affected the final deliverable, which determined whether or not the playbook would be published. As an intern, I was able to take ownership of a project from start to finish, and my recommendations will inform future resources designed to influence career development practices in Canada’s largest employer – the public sector. It was an extremely rewarding experience that I would not have had access to anywhere else.
I continued completing shorter-term projects that were equally exciting, including working with consultants to identify key issues and solutions for a multinational client and consolidating years of field work on Veteran hiring into a single report. Additionally, Lisa had me lead an action plan training webinar for the members that had represented Canada in the international symposium. I taught leaders from both the public and private sector learned a new tool that they will now use in their work. Throughout these experiences, there was one realization that consistently came to mind:
What you learn in school is actually applicable.
Throughout my first two years at business school, there was a set curriculum I had to complete. While some classes covered material I considered directly related to real-life situations, I could not see the direct value in many other courses. When was I ever going to need a memorized list of marketing management orientations? Why do I need to know the difference between the marginal propensity to spend and the marginal propensity to consume?
Upon reflection, all of it was relevant to my work at Challenge Factory. While in school, I was purely focused on the content I was forced to memorize, rather than the experience I was gaining through the learning process. I now see the real value behind my education. For example, group assignments have taught me how to create project plans to keep myself and my team accountable. Individual case studies have taught me how to analyze sets of quantitative and qualitative data to form an optimal recommendation. Presenting my recommendations have taught me how to effectively communicate in person and on paper. The two years I spent studying commerce definitely contributed to the work I accomplished this summer.
Well, that pretty much wraps up my time at Challenge Factory! I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of my summer in Toronto before heading back to Kingston to start my fall semester.
For anyone interested in learning more about Challenge Factory's internship program or my journey as a business student navigating unique and different paths, I’d love to grab a coffee with you. You can connect with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/hounicole/.
I’m someone who spent her entire life searching for answers, and this summer I was able to find some of them. Throughout my time as a student, I’d find myself constantly asking: why am I learning this? Would I ever be able to use this in the real world?
When I entered university and had to select a major, I found myself questioning: am I studying the right program? Am I giving up my passions and hobbies for financial stability? Will I ever be able to find a job that I enjoy? A lot of my doubts arose from the fact that I enjoyed art and creating, but was unable to see a financially stable career in these areas.
This summer I interned in Challenge Factory’s marketing department. During this short three-month period, I gained work experience, learned how to apply school theory in real-world situations, and picked up more time-management skills than I would ever need (courtesy of Cayla). I also gained interpersonal skills and learned to use countless different new programs like MailChimp and Hootsuite.
But more important than even the skills I learned was Challenge Factory’s future-focused perspective on career direction and development, making it the perfect place for an internship. I’d always been very unsure about the career direction that I want to head down, but Challenge Factory’s forward thinking, career direction course dedicated to interns was able to guide direction and provide me with new insights in evaluating the future of work. I gained more understanding about myself - my personality traits, behaviours, skill set, motivators, and passions - than I had in my entire university career thus far.
I believe that my newly developed internal realizations and external knowledge will provide me with a better start for the future. For example, I now have a better understanding of how to integrate art with business, other than just starting an art business. Currently, I’m researching consulting and advertising with a creative and marketing lens, as well as other possibilities.
Just when you think you know what to expect, surprises lurk around the corner. I was certainly surprised recently when our summer student interns presented what they had learned in their brief time at Challenge Factory. We have hired student interns for a number of years and have developed a program that blends individual student interest with real-time work products. No fetching coffee or making copies for our students. Instead, they run marketing campaigns, conduct research and create the foundation for works that will eventually be published.
In their final presentations, our students did share that they felt they had developed key skills this past summer. But, more importantly, our students shared a new sense of career ownership (the second of the five drivers shaping the Future of Work). I beamed as each student in turn spoke of career confidence, an openness to new options and an enthusiasm to explore different possibilities. They all commented on the lasting impact of their custom career exploration program. In their own articles, they identify a new awareness for small businesses as employers, a better appreciation of how to marry diverse interests in their work and how an opportunity to work in Canada challenged our Australian student to be independent, bold and self-sufficient.
Their presentations and reflections are a good reminder that successful careers are about much more than just skills. Sometimes, our focus on specific skill requirements, development and attainment overshadows what actually matters most in today’s world of work. We are so proud of our curious, capable and courageous students and wish them the best of luck as they return to campus in Kingston, Waterloo and Melbourne!
Be sure to read our interns' personal reflections about their experience:
Lisa Taylor, President & Founder of Challenge Factory, reflects on her international exposure to career development at the ICCDPP 2019 global symposium she recently attended in Tromsø, Norway.
With delegates from 33 other countries, Lisa spends time learning how each country, economy, and institution is shaping the Future of Work. Together, the representatives discuss and consult the best way forward for government, policy makers, businesses, education, and individuals in an effort to shape conversation and commitment around career development at a global level.
In this video, Lisa highlights some of the most exciting and promising initiatives currently changing the landscape of this sector. And, with the exposure to leading strategic plans, initiatives, and actions other countries have committed to, Lisa reflects on the opportunities Canada has to innovate, advance current initiatives, and lead in the Future of Work.
After watching the video, take this short survey and let us know how you’ve experienced career development in your educational, personal, and professional achievements. Your stories are a key ingredient to shaping Canada’s Future of Work.
Our lives are structured around daily routines. We tend to wake up at similar times each work day. Research has shown that, although individual routines may vary, people tend to have five specific activities that they do in the same order, each day, shortly after waking. But, how do we stick to our routines if there is no sunset or sunrise?
On a recent trip to Norway, I travelled to Sommarøy – a small fishing village of 350 residents on the Western shore of Norway’s north . Sommarøy experiences the midnight sun in summer when the sun doesn’t set for 100 days. It also creeps through the polar night in winter, with 60 days of complete darkness.
At the beginning of the midnight sun, residents from this village take off their watches and leave them attached to the bridge that provides access into the main part of town. They will tell any and all visitors that they do this to mark the beginning of 100 days of no darkness and no time.
Residents of Sommarøy fish and tend to the land. Our host explained that, with no darkness, he can fish or tend to his property at any time of day or night. It makes no difference if it is 3pm or 3am. “We sleep when we are tired,” he explained, relying only on internal cues of how he is feeling to separate time for work and time for rest.
It is a challenging concept and, after having experienced the midnight sun for just one week, I can understand why many Norwegians report finding it more difficult to get used to than the polar night. Researchers at the Arctic University of Norway have been studying why the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in nearby Tromsø remains lower than many other European and North American cities(cities that enjoy limited winter sun but certainly are able to watch the sun rise and set each day.)
Early findings suggest that the Norwegian ability to adapt to the periods of light and darkness can be tied to mindset. Initially setting out to study the challenges people faced during polar night, the lead researcher quickly realized that her initial perspective and hypothesis was biased. Tools measuring SAD incidence rates and severity assumed that darker days were by default problematic. But, early interviews uncovered that many residents preferred the winter dark season. It wasn’t seen as an issue or something to endure. Instead, the polar night provided more significant close family time and vibrant social life spent visiting in friends’ home. With weeks of pure darkness, the concept of making time suit one’s schedule still holds, but how the time is spent is very different than in the midnight sun, where people stroll the streets and visit pubs well into the wee hours of the morning. It seems attending sun-drenched celebrations offer less reward than preparing a comforting dish and sharing it among friends in homes.
Without strong discipline and being attuned to one’s own internal cues, the midnight sun can be exhausting. It is easy for time to slip by without realizing just how much you need to recharge. When you can’t rely on others around you or even the sun to remind you of day’s end, you can easily slip into endless days. So too, the polar night requires equal discipline: to remember not to hibernate but to seek opportunities to gather in intimate settings and spend time tending to meaningful relationships.
The midnight sun and polar night are powerful metaphors for our work. Often, when our work is going well and we are achieving our goals, we are driven to work harder and longer. We may miss personal cues that we need rest, or we may find ways to suppress the cues extending our working day well beyond what is sustainable. While the midnight sun does eventually set, on a schedule that is known and predictable, in our work we often don’t know when good times might end and so we seek to “make hay while the sun is shining.” We seek to take advantage of every last hour, minute, and second without heeding warnings that we are tiring or pushing beyond our natural limits.
In darker times, when everything is a struggle and the way forward is not always easy to see, we have the tendency to try to make it through alone. Collaborating or confiding in others takes more energy and effort and, so, in a period that is already difficult, we may hunker down and wait for lighter times. We might ignore what we already know – that humans are social beings and our personal relationships can see us through challenging professional times.
Through light and dark, we need to remember how the residents of Sommarøy approach work and time. We need to pay just as much attention to what’s happening within us as we do to the world around us. It is the only way we’ll know to rest when we are tired and to remember to band together when we are challenged. With this awareness comes an ability to appreciate both the light and the dark. To see value in what is created, nurtured, and accomplished across a much longer time horizon than a single season. To provide strength, satisfaction, and accomplishment across many cycles.
If representatives from around the world came together to reimagine the Future of Work, what would they discuss? How would trends that dominate the thinking in one part of the world be received by others? Is technological advancement a prerequisite or impediment to creative approaches that maximize human potential? Is Canada a leader, a follower or an outlier in terms of work, education, career and vocation?
I have taken these and the other questions with me and will report back over the summer.
The Symposium is taking place high in the Arctic, the land of the midnight sun. I think it is fitting to be discussing these questions about the Future of Work in a place where there is no darkness. Symbolically, it means there is no corner to hide in, no topic that is off the table. It provides extended time to work and requires us to be intentional about when to rest. It also requires a global community to come together in a setting that reminds us of the world’s magnificence, fragility and interconnectedness.
I’ll post a few pictures each day of Team Canada’s activities on Twitter. I hope you’ll follow the journey and send comments, questions and thoughts as we navigate the creation of a global position paper across the nations that are participating.
At home, we have been united in the pursuit of basketball history. I carry that collective sense of purpose and pride with me as part of Team Canada delegates at the symposium in Tromsø this week. We’re still a bit bleary-eyed, having watched those final minutes in our makeshift “Jurassic Park Norway” during the wee hours of the morning. But we felt like we were with you every step of the way.
Thanks to the input from this amazing community, I am proud to take your questions and hopes for the Future of Work with me into these global discussions.
It’s been an amazing and busy month since my latest book launched. The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work is a book almost 16 years in the making. Early recognition of some of the key symptoms of the Revolution piqued my interest in 2003, while I was still a corporate manager. By 2009, I was into research-mode, launching a new business and experimenting with career and talent models to address the intergenerational workforce. In 2016, my co-Author, Fern, and publisher, UTP, joined me in exploring the talent revolution. Together, we wrote a book that decodes exactly what is happening in today’s world of work.
Of course, getting the book into people’s hands and onto shelves is only the beginning. I am excited that between now and December, I’ll have a chance to visit with communities across Canada and in Europe to talk about the world of work and explore the impact the book is having. I’ll share a few key insights along the way – and welcome opportunities to speak in your community or company, if you aren’t already on the list of cities I’ll be visiting.
My first stop on the book tour was at Wilfrid Laurier University. Laurier has an impressive and innovative approach to Experiential Learning and Career Development. Laurier has many innovative programs that challenge assumptions about education and the roles various stakeholders might play. From their Brantford Campus to their Community Engagement Option, it was clear that Laurier is working with its students and stakeholders to shape a new future for education and career success.
Next, I went east, in fact, as far east as you can go and still be in North America.
In St. John’s, Newfoundland, I was welcomed into the Military Family Leadership Circle led by Gail Wideman. Like older workers, Veterans have decades of service and a strong identity tied to the work that they had been doing in the past. Understanding the nuances of various hidden talent pools, including Veterans and older workers, is critical to Canada’s competitiveness now and in the future.
While in St. John’s I also spent time with Jennifer Browne, (Interim) Director of Student Life at Memorial University. In the beautiful campus career centre, I shared the key findings from the book with community partners and employers. It was election day in the province, and we had candid and detailed discussions about employment, work and policy. I came away from this leg of my tour with a deep curiosity about and interest in Newfoundland. There are long-standing narratives going back many generations about work on the Rock and, at the same time, when you talk one-on-one with people, there is a real hunger to learn how to take some of the innovative and new ideas that are bubbling beneath the surface and unearth a new story. We spoke a lot about how communities and individuals can be actors in how the world of work continues to change as opposed to recipients of conditions and circumstances that are not of their choosing. I can’t wait to return to see how their story continues to unfold.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be visiting Montreal, Halifax, and Norway, where I’ll work alongside leaders from 34 countries. I’ll continue to share some images and learnings and welcome your feedback. What do you want to learn from these places as I visit? What questions can I ask on your behalf? And, as you’ll see below, when I meet with the representatives of countries from around the world, what do you want them to know about Canada, your company and our approaches to the future of work?
The Talent Revolution launches next week, and I am fully of nervous energy. Friends have noticed that I don’t seem to know what to do with myself.
It is thrilling to open my inbox and see messages from clients and colleagues like, “This topic was begging to be addressed and I love that you brought a data-driven, case study approach to it.” Others excitedly send me photos of newspaper ads for the book that they stumbled upon over Saturday morning coffee. Last week, we learned that the book will be sold in airports across the country starting May 6th – and I am imagining how it will feel to see it on tables as I buy gum on my way to Halifax next month. The book hasn’t officially launched yet and the second printing is already in the works as the publisher predicts within weeks it will be sold out.
It is terrifying. Despite being a business book, the work feels so very personal. It is a true reflection of how I think about the world of work. The international peer review process tested its relevance and rigour. But, there’s no hiding behind what other people have done, said or thought in this book. I set out to challenge traditional thinking and shake up the HR and Career Development world. It’s a revolution, after all.
It is about time! I started noticing the trends outlined in this book in 2003. I left my corporate career in 2009 to focus on the future of work full-time. I launched Challenge Factory in 2011 and my co-author and I signed our contract with University of Toronto Press in 2016. This launch has been a long-time coming and, at the same time, I feel that this is the perfect time for this book to be available. I know that it addresses key questions that organizations of all sizes are asking today, more than ever before.
So, my Challenge Factory community, help Fern and I celebrate this moment. It couldn’t have happened without the interactions we’ve had over the years. We wrote this book for everyone who senses the world of work is changing and wants new data, imagery and approaches to create what comes next. We wrote it for you.
Grab your copy and be in touch! I can’t wait to hear what you think, to speak at your events and to work with your teams (and, while we are at it, an Amazon review or two never hurts 😉). Welcome to the Talent Revolution.
Revolutions are messy. They disrupt and challenge what is currently in place, without fully revealing what is to come. When living through revolutionary times, it is easy to think that the full story can be known. We tell ourselves narratives that make the changes of the day less painful or more aligned with our own values, interests and beliefs.
The Talent Revolution is also messy. There are many topics and technologies, groundswells and gurus all competing for attention to help paint a picture of the Future of Work.
The Federal Budget gives us a few clues that are worthy of note. Before the budget came out, government spokespeople signaled that older workers and later-life training would be a focus. On budget day, the new Canada Training Credit was introduced. It provides Canadians with a notional account that collects $250 per year to be used toward retraining, to a maximum of $5,000 over the course of a person’s lifetime. I believe there is one hopeful and one disappointing clue buried in the introduction of this new credit.
Hopeful: Encouraging culture of life-long learning and career development
The existence of this credit is an important signal. It encourages Canadians to consider taking ownership of their own training throughout their life and not just early in their career. In fact, the small annual amount accrued should reinforce that there can be significant training and career shifts that take place later in one’s career. Someone who has worked for a longer period will be able to take advantage of a more meaningful benefit, presumably allowing for more significant skill and career development. It is a benefit that is structured to support older worker training and development. That the credit offers a relatively modest amount of funding is something to improve upon over time and should not overshadow the cultural implication of the credit’s introduction.
When compared with other countries, Canada as a nation does not rank high on scales measuring cultures of life-long learning and innovation. I am curious to see if the Canada Training Credit, which takes 20 years to accrue to its maximum payout, shifts the discussion and culture. Will parents provide a different type of modelling for future generations as they explore new training 10, 15 and 20 years into their careers? This credit is a baby step towards a more ingrained culture of life-long learning and individual career ownership and agency.
Disappointing: Outdated perspective on aging, longevity and workforce engagement
If we are looking for clues to indicate how ready Canada is to re-imagine the world of work and create a future where everyone can thrive, there is one aspect of the Canada Training Credit that disappoints. The Credit is structured so that Canadians have until age 65 to use the amount that has accrued in their individual notional accounts. Why 65? We know that Canadians are living and working longer. That unemployment among older workers is a significant problem and that one of the fastest growing cohorts of entrepreneurs is women aged 55+. Why introduce a new approach to life-long learning, training and career development and then limit its use to an age that was set as the retirement age in the 1930s when life expectancy was only 62 years?
The introduction of this age limit has clear and powerful underlying consequences. In “The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work,”my co-author and I identify and dispel with data the five myths that keep companies and countries from making smart workforce decision and policy. The new Credit falls victim to 3 of the 5 myths. First, it reinforces the false belief that there is a “best before” date for workers. Second, it communicates that there is a chronological, universal age at which training is no longer appropriate, needed or useful. Finally, it asserts that retraining workers over age 65 is a poor investment. These three myths are all false, prevalent and powerful. They sound reasonable. But the data shows that they are not. This new Credit only reinforces these pernicious myths, adding legitimacy to beliefs that limit productivity in every industry, company and community across Canada.
Life-long Learning? Really?
We need to examine the underlying stories and narratives being told as new policies, announcements and company programs are implemented. A culture of life-long learning and commitment to career development is powerful as we navigate the talent revolution and shape the future of work. Let’s just make sure we truly understand what “life-long” actually means and the opportunity it can present.