Spring Forward

 Mar 11, 2019 10:00 AM

Spring forward, fall back. This bi-annual ritual is one way we mark time and, each time, there is a combination of sweet and sour associated with the act of changing our clocks. In the fall we welcome the extra hour while lamenting the marking of the beginning of darker days. In the spring, we focus on the lost hour all the while knowing it means brighter days and warm summer ahead.

This cycle of light and dark, gaining and losing time, appears more broadly in our careers and lives, too. We know that there are times when we need to push through less than ideal conditions and remain in jobs that do not fully satisfy our needs – those related to finances, schedule, growth, recognition, location, impact or relationships. We default to taking comfort in what remaining in place can offer.  It’s easier, familiar.  It feels less risky than change - the career equivalent of the extra hour gained in the fall as we head into cold, dark winter. Then, as we move through different phases of our career, we look ahead and recognize that, while there may be temporary discomfort, the time has come to move forward.  We experience both excitement for what lies ahead while expressing apprehension and preparing ourselves for the fatigue that can result from undertaking change.

Experts tell us that Daylight Saving Time, which we have just entered, is preferable to Daylight Standard Time. Originally designed to conserve energy and fit an agrarian schedule, Standard Time no longer serves the way we live, work and consume. In 2019 we are more active at twilight and in the evening than early morning. Most benefit from the light that extends our hours rather than greeting us in the earliest moments of the day.

Shifting to Daylight Saving Time can also be a symbol for how we mark time, more broadly.

We expect students and early adults to take some time to find their way. We encourage university students to pursue common first-year curriculum rather than declaring majors before exiting high school. We provide opportunities for internships, co-op and experiential learning so students can assimilate what is being learned in the class with what is happening in a rapidly changing world of work. We allow for self-exploration and taking time to know one’s self not as the exception, but as the norm. We allow for more time early in our careers to explore a bit in the dark, knowing that clarity will eventually come.

Likewise, we know that shifting our society to expect longer periods of productivity later in life suits our times. We have more to contribute later in our careers than ever before and even the definition of when “later” is continues to get pushed farther and farther back. We crave every drop of light so our work and contributions remain visible. We find new projects that are meaningful and pursue them before it becomes too hard to continue. In context, the extra effort to remain engaged or to re-engage later in life is worth it, like the lost hour we experienced this past weekend. It can leave us a bit bleary – but the brighter, longer hours of sunshine beckon us to find the energy and explore new paths that have been previously hidden in the darkness.

Let’s Spring Forward in our careers and how we think about work. Let’s put in the effort to see past outdated rituals and structures to find what truly serves us all as we move into the future. Let’s challenge assumptions about the possible/impossible to recognize that we have the ability to shape our own environments and futures. Let’s harness time to have it serve us as we create, collaborate and connect. Let’s shake off the fatigue associated with change and move to reveling in the joy new beginnings present.

Let’s bring our best work into the light.


Response to the Future Skills Centre Announcement

 Feb 14, 2019 1:00 PM

By: Lisa Taylor

This morning I participated in an announcement from the Government of Canada that had me sitting on the edge of my seat and solidified Challenge Factory’s dedication to career development and the Future of Work.

From news sources across the country the message is clear: The Canadian Government is taking action to ensure Canadian workers are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. Through a newly developed Future Skills Centre and Future Skills Council, priorities will be identified and new opportunities will be created to develop a stronger economy. The project is being operated by an innovative partnership between Ryerson University, the Conference Board of Canada and Blueprint.

Depending on your lens, sector, expertise or scope of work, the actions that we, as a country and individuals, must take can be tallied on a list a kilometer long. However, listening to this morning’s announcement, and the commitments of Future Skills Council members, our national call-to-action has been cemented into three key deliverables:

  1. We need a new way to have a national conversation on the Future of Work.
  2. Demographic change is the significant catalyst, with many other dimensions to consider.
  3. Other countries are also searching for how to create an inclusive, thriving Future of Work. We can learn from them - but also lead.

So why did this morning’s announcement have me sitting on the edge of my seat – bursting with pride? These three initiatives are, and have been, the focus of Challenge Factory’s mission and mode and we are both thrilled and extremely proud that we are in sync with the leaders of our nation.

Last January, Challenge Factory sponsored an interactive research project focused on developing a National Conversation on the Future of Work. The outcome was a 12 minute documentary and a beta conversation guide that challenges Canadians to shape the Future of Work. 

In a few weeks, my newest book, The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work, hits the shelves.  It explores the impact of workforce demographics on the Future of Work and provides new, actionable strategies for turning an aging workforce into a competitive advantage.  I began the research for this book over 10 years ago yet started putting pen to paper within the last three.

Immediately after the book launch, I will be heading to Norway, as part of the Canadian team, for a global symposium that will bring together policy makers, career development professionals, researchers and employer and workplace representatives to discuss the way forward for global career development.

This morning’s announcement had all of us at Challenge Factory both passionate and poised for the road that lies ahead and the new paths we plan to carve for all Canadians in the Future of Work. 

We know the way to the future is through hyper-collaboration, capacity building and co-creation. Contact us if you, too, are sitting on the edge of your seat.


Think bigger, go farther and take the risk.

 Feb 13, 2019 1:00 PM

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.  


My 2019 word

 Jan 15, 2019 11:00 AM

2019: Too big for a single word

If you are like me, your social media feeds has been filling up with the latest resolution-replacing trend, annual key words. These words are supposed to provide focus and purpose for the year ahead. To remind us of why we do what we do, what we hope to share with the world and what we will look to receive in return.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against this practice. I think 2019 is a great time for gratitude. Patience is always a virtue. Passion keeps the blood flowing. Compassion keeps us human. I just don’t think I can sum up all that will be in 2019 with a single word. There is simply too much. For me personally and at Challenge Factory, work and life is bursting.

My 10,000-hour moment

I left my corporate career ten years ago this September and, according to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes about that long (assuming 4 solid, focused hours a day) to amass the number of hours required for mastery. It boggles my mind that so much time has gone by and, at the same time, as this 10th year is about to start I am amazed how quickly it flew. This year certainly feels like a whole new ball game (which I have also spent more than 10,000 hours watching, but that is a baseball story for a different article).

In June, I’ll represent Canada as one of 6 members of Team Canada at the International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy. If there were an Olympics of the Future of Work, this would be it. At the northern tip of Norway, during summer solstice, delegations from 32 countries will convene to explore how countries and companies are challenging outdated career thinking and shaping a future we all want to see.

But first, my third book will launch in May. The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work has been a labour of love for the past three years. All the models, tools and research that informs Challenge Factory’s consulting work is contained within its 233 pages. The first book of its kind, it helps organizations respond to and capitalize upon an ageing workforce.

Yet, even before the book launches, Challenge Factory is starting new projects with a financial services firm, an engineering organization and an automotive parts manufacturer. These clients don’t know each other, but they all share a common need to rethink retention, redraw today’s employee lifecycle and challenge outdated career thinking. Their managers need better tools and guidance to have useful career conversations with staff and get the most out of their intergenerational workforces.

And, while we plan for those corporate project kick-off workshops, new, individual career changers are starting courses in the completely redesigned and relaunched Centre for Career Innovation. Using what I’ve learned in all 10 years and 10, 000 hours of career development practice, we’ve consolidated and simplified our courses, streamlined our methodology and tools and presented more self-serve options that ever before. If you haven’t visited the centre in the last two weeks, you need to!

I am bursting with pride when I think about the team that is at Challenge Factory working on all these activities. From Cayla, who has been with us for more than seven years to Reia, Trevor and Bill who have joined us in recent weeks.

2019 is a big year that is off to an auspicious start. One bursting with unimagined opportunity, fantastic challenges and clients, like you, who are ready to contemplate a future of work that is human. We are bursting with potential, tools and insights to share and build upon together. Hmm, bursting. I guess that’s my 2019 word.


The GM announcement made the future of work personal

 Dec 5, 2018 11:00 AM

Everyone knows that the world of work is changing. We feel it when we talk with friends and neighbours about our own careers and we hear it on the news, in podcasts and in the media.

In May 2017, Pew Research Center polled working adults across the United States, asking how likely they believed specific jobs would be replaced by automation within their lifetime. They found that, while people believed certain jobs may be more at risk than others, their own job was relatively safe. That is, unless they or a close family member has already been impacted by a layoff, reorganization, reduction of hours or shift in duties. Intellectually, we know that work is changing but do not personally connect or engage in considering the impact until something makes it personal.

The recent GM announcement to close the Oshawa plant in Ontario certainly made the conversation about employment, training, careers and work personal for those living in south-western Ontario. Other groups of workers who have experienced recent employment shocks, such as those in the oil sector, expressed frustration – “You see? We’ve been telling you. Canada, we have a problem.”

Indeed, big events shine a spotlight that exposes all the various cracks and issues. It can make everything feel out of the control, ignored or at risk. We can hardly be surprised when anxiety, confusion, frustration and anger are expressed.

Whose voices did we hear in response to the GM announcement?

In the seven days following the announcement, average Canadians across the province started hearing a variety of voices – all expressing concern and all talking about slightly different issues, needs, and risks.

  1. Individual workers and families were seen reeling from the announcement. Concerned about their future, the impact on their co-workers and what the action will mean for their families, they expressed betrayal, fear and uncertainty.
  2. Career practitioners and employment specialists shared advice, resources and guidance to those impacted. In mainstream media as well as on social media, articles and interviews abounded that offered help and hope, encouraging those impacted to take a breath, seek support and prepare to take control of their own future.
  3. Politicians, from municipal to federal, commented on risks and impacts to regional economies. As the days went on, some began to demonstrate ways that the economy might weather these changes. Others remained resigned and uncertain about the way forward.
  4. Labour leaders from a variety of unions and associations presented a variety of perspectives. Some attacked the employer for its decision, timing and communication strategy. Others provided context and data about related policies and agreements that were being blamed for the decision.
  5. Company officials remained steadfast and consistent, reinforcing the business rationale for the decision while foreshadowing more changes to come.
  6. Think tanks and pundits highlighted the many different policy and systemic areas that are broken or unready for the future. These discussions included electric vehicle technology and environmental policy, education gaps in preparing the future (or even the current) workforce, access to relevant, lifelong employment and career supports and social benefits models to replace/augment capitalism.

At Challenge Factory we are hosting a National Conversation on the Future of Work. We know that the discussion includes everyone – not just those in positions to set policy or be interviewed in the media. So, in the past week, in addition to the articles or interviews broadcasted that include the players listed above, I have been focusing on the comments, retweets and reactions from everyday Canadians.

The underlying theme of the various stories carried in the last week reflect a view that we are not ready. Our workers aren’t ready for this type of change – even though it had been predicted. Our local economies are not ready for shifting labour and employment. Our training and employment support programs are not ready for life-long, relevant and innovative workplace learning. Our country is not ready for the future it wants to lead.

Instead of “are we ready?” let’s focus on triage and treatment

I think the question of readiness bundles the many complex issues and challenges together in a way that can lead to systemic policy paralysis and individual feelings of hopelessness. If, as reported, everything is broken, where do we start?

Last year I wrote about how workforce issues can be considered either acute (emergency room worthy) or chronic (on-going serious issues but not immediately life-threatening). Anyone living with a chronic illness knows that healthy living can occur even with a need for on-going treatment and care. Our workforce and its related employment, education and training models have chronic health conditions.  One-time treatments are not enough. Systems we address at one point in time may be affected by changes somewhere else later and need revisiting. We need an on-going treatment plan that provides stability, not continual crisis response, to get from where we are now to 2030 and beyond.

It’s not easy. It needs smart triage and teams of specialists who are ready to work together, with the systems and tools to be able to share information quickly and with context. It needs leaders who understand that in times of emergencies the first job is to provide stability and to co-ordinate care so that the patient, our workforce, can move from imminent crises to longer-term protocols.

The key to this type of approach is to recognize that not everything is urgent even if everything is broken. A patient suffering a stroke, with diabetes, a broken leg and a serious skin rash will not stay in the emergency room until all these conditions are resolved.

We can provide urgent response to those impacted by the GM announcement and allocate resources, leadership and strategies to ensure long term sustainable workforce supports for all Canadians.

Where is progress being made that is not necessarily reported in your newsfeed?

Key players across the complex systems that care about workers know this is the case. It is true, there are many detailed reports indicating where Canada is lagging in its focus on employment, retraining, post-secondary literacy attainment and other indicators. For some, these reports are signs of failure. To me, the fact that we have data specifically identifying our weaknesses is far better than the position we were in even five years ago.  Despite the plethora of media and social media attention on what’s broken, we know that there is progress being made. I see it in my work, everyday, and want to share just four of many examples of initiatives that counterbalance the commonly expressed view that no action is being taken in Canada.

  1. Policy makers focused on action: Last summer, policy makers, educational institutions and private sector leaders came together at the Queen’s International Symposium on Social Policy. The conference, entitled: “The Future of Work: What do we do?” focused on translating research into action imperatives to align efforts across governmental bodies. I attended and heard industry leaders and policy makers debate key initiatives, listen to each other and learn from each other. It was a good discussion that now has to fulfil on the promise of the conference title – moving from ideas to action.
  2. Career development sector expanding its reach and impact: CERIC, a Canadian provider of career development research, education and programs, hosts the largest conference for career and employment practitioners every year. At the Cannexus 2019 conference a new stream has been added to focus specifically on the future of work from a workforce development lens.
  3. Industry associations and member companies gathering good data: Recently, industries, such as the insurance industry, have completed new types of analysis to understand and diagnose their own sector. Focus has increased to bring private sector employers together to understand the impact corporate decisions will have on the workforce and identify collective strategies to mitigate risks and assist with change.
  4. Federal  government investment: Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has committed support to new and innovative approaches identify the skills employers will need now and in the future, share information and inform future investments and programming. The Future Skills Centre and Council has the mandate to ensure we get better at triage for the acute issues while also creating the framework and conditions for a chronic, long-term supportive approach to emerge that will help treat our workforce challenges between now and 2030 and beyond.

Canada is not alone in its focus on this topic. There are other countries ahead of us in how they are preparing for the changes that lie ahead. The coming 2019 International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy in Norway is a prime example. As a member of Team Canada, I, along with my colleagues, will share Canada’s successes, challenges, innovative ideas and hypotheses with the opportunity to get feedback and reaction from around the world.

Yes, there is work underway at every level and, yet, there remains hard work ahead.

Action steps everyone can take

The initiatives listed above are evidence that political, policy, academic, industry and company leaders are actively working on the challenges of a shifting workforce. Missing from the list are individual workers. Each of us can take personal action to ensure we are readying ourselves and future-proofing our own careers. If you are unsure where to start, I recommend considering these questions:

  1. How you are developing your own skills and advancing your own knowledge and career? When was the last time you learned something new? How familiar are you with the various education, training, retraining and entrepreneurship support programs available to you in your local community and online? If you aren’t sure where to start, I recommend visiting a branch of your local public library and asking what programs and resources they offer and are aware of.
  2. How critical are you of what you read and see in the media – especially social media. Do you search out a variety of views on any topic – or find organizations that share a variety of perspectives. Comments and retweets may be like the town square, with lots of voices. Where can you learn who is working to address the specific concerns you have. I guarantee that someone is. How can you join them – or at least learn what they are doing?
  3. When you do seek out reskilling or training (for yourself and/or your employees) consider how future-focused the provider is. If you work with traditional providers, you will reinforce that you want traditional approaches – even as you lament how our education and training systems are out of date. By choosing programs and partners that demonstrate they recognize today’s complexity and are participating in creating solutions, you will reinforce what we want more of in the market.

All of us – every single Canadian – has a role to play in shaping the kind of future we want. Not everyone sets national or provincial policy. Not everyone runs a company. But we all make choices about how we focus on our own careers, when we upgrade our skills, how we let others know we have questions or that we need help. No one is passive in this shift to the future and unless you let it – it isn’t something that happens to you. You are a part of its creation.



3 Risks Keep Managers from Engaging in Employee Career Development

 Nov 20, 2018 9:00 AM

Being Bold: Career Conversations

Managers know that career conversations can be powerful. You know that helping staff connect their day-to-day work with longer-term career aspirations enhances productivity, employee engagement and loyalty.

While the importance and benefits of career conversations are evident, they are not always easy. In researching and writing two books in the Retain and Gain series, I’ve learned that leaders and managers inside of small businesses and non-profits believe that career conversations are risky. Rather than seeing them for the mission-enhancing tools they can be, leaders across sectors believe that engaging in open career-focused conversations can put the organization at risk. I’ve identified three specific risks that need to be addressed if you are going to overcome these top fears and be better career advisors for your teams.

Risk #1: Pandora’s box

This risk assumes having a conversation with an employee about their future will prompt them to ask for unpredictable and unlimited changes to their current employment structure. New pay demands, different hours, a change in responsibility and increased flexibility in work location all might become part of this discussion without any mechanism to satisfy any of these requests. In an attempt to keep these demands contained, managers keep this box closed and intentionally avoid opening career-related conversations.

This fear is not just limited to front-line managers. Recently, following the release of Retain and Gain: Career Management for Non-profits and Charities, an executive director indicated that she was tempted to purchase copies for her directors and host a lunch and learn on the topic. “But Lisa,” she said, “what happens if our directors instruct managers to actually use the Playbook?  Do I really want to get into career conversations with staff given our current budgetary constraints?”

You need not fear opening this discussion. Research shows that engaging your staff in meaningful, realistic and personal discussions, even with tough financial constraints increases loyalty, especially when other rewards, recognition and development opportunities are explored. Using the 40+ activities in the books, you can address specific concerns and provide career-advancing opportunities that go well beyond compensation to ensure your organization remain strong.

Risk #2: Imposter syndrome

This risk is based on an assumption that managers are not natural career advisors for staff and that they will not feel comfortable having career-related conversations. At the heart of this risk is the fear that managers will find themselves in situations where they lack the skills or don’t have the knowledge needed to address employee concerns. They will appear as if they have command of careers but lack the substance to back it up.

Canadians receive more career guidance from their workplace manager than they do from any other professional connection. Parents and peers also play a part in how informal guidance is provided, but it is the front-line manager who communicates intended and unintended messages about how roles, opportunities and organizations are changing and how this will affect employees.

The reality is that most managers receive no formal career development education or training. You may have been given guidelines on how to deliver various types of messages to your staff, but very little opportunity to learn just how rich and easy-to-use career management tools are to help you engage, retain and develop your teams. As career professionals, we know how useful the tools are – and that they work. We need to share more stories of career development within workplaces. This will help managers see the role they can play and develop confidence in the potential for success as a career advisor for their team.

Risk #3: Time warp

Leaders and managers already feel that there is too much to do and not enough time to accomplish all that is on their plate. The addition of career conversations that can become quite personal can feel like an activity that would put their entire workflow and schedule at risk.

Career conversations in isolation or as an exception are time-consuming. Employees hungry to understand how their work can evolve and support their future ambitions will want to have detailed and perhaps even challenging conversations. However, the solution is not to avoid having conversations, but to normalize how they are held and who participates.

Simple, everyday activities, such as those provided within the Retain and Gain series, can encourage employees to reflect on their own careers and be intentional with the time they have with their managers. The Playbook provides guidance on how to build career champions across the organization and ensure career development happens all the time. Embedding career development into organizational culture can become a potential source of managerial efficiency. As employees are encouraged to grow, their circle of advisors and supporters will also grow.

Being bold

We want to support managers and encourage you to be bold in initiating career-related conversations and programs inside of your organization. As career professionals, we need to help make the link between bold organizational results and career-focused staff, even in sectors with limited resources, flat organizations and overworked managers. Today’s workforce needs career development support to overcome their own fears and navigate with employers into the future.

Ready to take action?

Download a free copy of Retain and Gain today and join the National Conversation on the Future of Work.


Architecting the future of work: We are all actors

 Oct 29, 2018 7:00 AM

Since January, I’ve been part of more than 25 conferences, corporate programs and community-based initiatives, all focused on how the world of work is changing and what needs to be done to be ready for the future that is quickly unfolding. In many of these events, I was a speaker or panelist. For a few, I was an audience member. At all, I have been a researcher and observer.

In each discussion I consider how it felt in the 1990s as technology was about to change everything – we just didn’t know exactly how or how fast. I remember sitting beside brilliant technologists as they conceived of apps (except we didn’t yet have language to describe an app and so instead they were called “personal web components”). I recall working with companies who doubted health care products would ever be purchased online and therefore there was no need for a website. Those of us with early exposure to emerging technology could not conceive of how devices have transformed the world. Yet we had to find ways to start moving into this unknown future. Agile, user-centric design and object-oriented programming all emerged as new tools to shape an evolving world.

I love finding patterns within complex, systems and creating useful, practical maps.  Today, talent – our workforce, the work they do and how they do it – is being revolutionized. The future is just as uncertain as it seemed all those years ago and new ways of imagining the future of work are needed to navigate from where we are to the way things will be for our children and their children. Yesterday’s technology revolution has sparked today’s talent revolution (a topic explored in a new book that is coming out in 2019).

Perspectives from policy makers

Senior policy makers look through a 30-year lens and consider what types of regulation will be helpful or hurtful to create a thriving Canadian future. They ask questions such as “what employer incentives should be accelerated?” or “which types of technologies should have adoption encouraged and which should be left to develop more slowly?” From driverless vehicles to employee skills retraining, these policy leaders are consuming data that paints various scenarios of where the world is heading, what other countries are doing and what the Canadian path could look like. They are shaping the future of work by pulling on levers that will impact the rest of us for decades. It is in these discussions that detailed data is often shared that contradicts what we hear in the daily media.

One example of meaningful myth-busting was presented at the Queen’s International Institute for Social Policy (QIISP) Conference in August, where we heard from many European and North American researchers that the number of freelancers within most Western economies (including Canada) has not changed in more than two decades. The data does not support the view that traditional models of employment are being usurped by vast numbers of workers engaged in the “gig” economy.  From a policy lens, assuming a shift to a “post-employment” era would be premature. Instead, an examination of how the nature of work and employment relationships continue to change and what will address the rise of specific precarious employment practices is more prudent.

Considerations of corporate leaders

Corporate leaders focus their lens on a closer horizon. They examine issues impacting workforces and workplaces today and that will continue to impact business performance and opportunity in the coming decade. This 10-year horizon includes topics like demographic change, skills shortages, a gap in mid-level leadership candidates and required skills transfers from today’s jobs to roles that will exist in a more automated future.

Employers are accessing the incentive programs that the policy makers implemented over the last decade. Design to incent employers to move their workforces forward as workforce-related change began to accelerate, these programs may offset the cost of skills-based training and experiential learning. Others provide tax credits for exploration of certain technologies, research and innovation that will lead to new jobs and work aligned with a more technological future.

Alignment of associations

In between the policy makers and the employers are the industry associations. From electricity distribution to manufacturing, social work to post-secondary education, associations across the country are applying a sector lens that is sometimes zoomed into current day issues and other times focused far into the future. At annual conferences trends are shared with members. Behind closed doors or in private consultations, leadership teams challenge myths and architect roadmaps.

Your agency as an actor

With all these layers of architecting occurring simultaneously it is easy to see why making sense of the future of work is complex. We are architecting the future of our world. Depending on the audience and the focus, or zoom level, we may end up digging deep into a technology or skimming the surface of attention-grabbing headlines. We may take a system-wide view of a topic, such as the impact of longer lifespans or narrow the discussion to address current day challenges such as how managers can be better equipped to help staff with their own career decisions.

However, from policy maker to corporate leader, association executive to manager, employee to student, we are all actors in the future of work. Each of us makes choices in our own careers and within our own teams that collectively are shaping the future of work. We are creating or challenging boundaries, accepting or disputing truths and facilitating or disrupting change in big and small ways.

For some, there are significant fears. Others see immense opportunity.

The future of work is not something that will happen to us. The policy makers, corporate leaders and industry association executives aren’t working behind a curtain creating a future that will be launched with a “big reveal.” All of us make choices to engage, disengage, attack or retreat in ways that creates the datapoints reported in our news and generates the theories that get explored. 

This realization that we are all actors leads to an exciting, if daunting, conclusion. We need to expand the conversations that are taking place to include everyone. It’s why behind the scenes Challenge Factory and Creative Connection have been starting Canada’s first National Conversation on the Future of Work – with a new documentary and conversation guides ready to launch in November. We want everyone in every corner of the country to have the opportunity to consider their role in shaping the future of work, to challenge assumptions and push the architects.

It is ambitious, exciting and important and we would love to have you join in. Ask for information on how to host a conversation on the future of work so those in your work and local community can step into their role as key actors and partners to the architects.


Three lessons from our 3 student interns

 Aug 13, 2018 2:00 PM

Hiring summer students is not easy for small businesses. It takes time for students to learn about what we do and how we do it. Students have their own schedules, with planned family vacation, school registration dates and other commitments that may affect their schedules in ways that are not always aligned with the needs of the business.  

At Challenge Factory, we take our role as summer employer seriously. Our students have specific learning goals, are exposed to new opportunities and are given real-world work to complete. Since so much of our work is done with flexible hours and often in remote locations we ensure students have enough support, contact and interaction to remain engaged in their work. Our students learn about their skills, what affects their productivity, what types of work they enjoy and how they react when having to give and receive feedback.  

This year we have a remarkable group of students – and have learned something new from each of them that is key to the future growth and development of the company. 

Meeting with Kitchener MP Raj Saini

Lesson from Alex:  Communication, cultural fit and explicit intention make distributed teams possible for companies of any size. 

Marketing Intern (4th year Communication Studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University) 

Alex is our first student to be based outside of Toronto. Before Alex started, we knew that using video chat and other productivity tools would be important. We worried that Alex would feel left out of the activities that were taking place at our Toronto-based office. But Alex has surprised us. She is an engaged team member and an integrated part of team projects. She is not out of step or disconnected with the rest of the team or the work being done. She is creative and clever. 

Alex has taught us that, as a company, if the fit is right, we are ready to take on team members who live outside of the Toronto area. She’s challenged an assumption that we do not have enough formal processes in place to ensure remote workers can be productive. She’s enabled us to build a profile of characteristics, beyond job related skills, that we know are important for any new remote member of our team. 

In a workshop for Homeward Bound at Woodgreen Community Services

Lesson from Ben: Employees with multiple gigs face specific challenges while offering employers access to flexible talent. Employers have a role to play in collaborating, co-operating and demonstrating flexibility. 

Research Intern (2nd year Economics student at University of British Columbia) 

Ben has been working at Challenge Factory while juggling two other summer jobs. His job with us leveraged his diverse talents and interests. He has edited upcoming publications, assisted with client facilitation, and conducted qualitative and quantitative research on hard to measure topics related to corporate culture and interpersonal dynamics.  

Like so many others in today’s world of work, Ben’s work schedule fluctuates each week. His other employer communicates the weekly work schedule on Sunday evenings for shifts starting Monday morning. This situation is not ideal – neither for Ben who can’t predict or plan any work or personal event more than a few days in advance, nor for us since we never know when Ben will or will not be available. But it is informative. Our work at Challenge Factory focuses on how Five Drivers are shaping the future of work  – and assisting policy makers and organizations to recognize the difference between leveraging a freelance economy and perpetuating conditions of precarious employment are a part of our ongoing conversations. In addition to the great work that Ben is doing for us, he is helping us better understand how new models of inter-employer collaboration can create better working conditions for everyone. 

Enjoying lunch at Insomnia in Toronto.

Lesson from Lucrezia: Communicating what we do to anyone new to Challenge Factory is enhanced when we use clear, specific language. 

International Intern (M.SC Psychology Student from Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan). 

Lucrezia is completing a for-credit work term focused on applying her background in psychology to the world of work. In Lucrezia’s first week on the job she attended partnership meetings, research reviews, client consulting sessions and internal service development workshops. She is smart and brings valuable professional expertise. 

Challenge Factory’s work is complicated. We deal in trends that are just emerging. Our team needs to be quick thinking and able to make multiple connections across a variety of data points in real time. Lucrezia demonstrates all of these skills, when working in Italian. While she is very focused on closing the gap between the sophistication of what she has to say and her command of English, we are finding significant value in working together in these early days. It is forcing us to slow down, to simplify and to ensure we are being precise in our language and it is making us better. We’ve changed how we conduct meetings to ensure we pause with moments for reflection and review before soliciting feedback and input – and we are reaping rewards far beyond enabling Lucrezia’s intelligent voice to be heard. Lucrezia’s questions, suggestions and perspectives are making us better communicators of complex concepts, models and outcomes.  

Summer Students and the Return on Investment 

Our students leave a lasting effect on Challenge Factory as we, in turn, hope to leave on them. We are grateful to have been part of their career journey and look forward to seeing what comes next for each of them as valued Challenge Factory Alumni. 

Challenge Factory is looking for Fall Interns. If you know a student who is looking for a graphic design/marketing or research co-op or internship let us know! 


Engaging With the Future of Work: What We've Been Up To

 Jun 21, 2018 2:00 PM

I spend my days working with organizations that are thinking about how the world of work will change between now and 2030. Let’s take 2 minutes to explore what exactly this entails – and there is an invitation for you at the end of the article.

Some companies approach Challenge Factory because they are worried about aging demographic composition of their workforce and intergenerational tensions as everyone looks to advance in their careers.

Others foresee the impact of new business models and technology and wonder how to shift from the workforce they currently have to the workforce they will need without losing the humanity that is at the core of their culture and values.

New government funding is starting to flow to tackle ambitious issues, such as how to better integrate Veterans into civilian society post-release and how to rethink employment related education and training so that we are fostering the skills that will be needed in a future that is still very much being shaped by technological advancement.

Challenge Factory is part of all these discussions. From the Senior Executive in the consulting firm who is wondering what’s next for their own career – what comes after “Partner?” - to the largest institutions grappling with challenges that will impact entire generations of workers for decades to come. We are at the table and lending our perspective, methodology and curriculum, based on our understanding of the five drivers that are shaping the Future of Work.

Many people comment on the breadth of topics and work that Challenge Factory takes on and, while it is true that we are involved in diverse types of discussions and projects, we really tackle one major issue: The Future of Work. Our three business groups tackle this issue with three different lenses, each with their own level of zoom and focus.

• Our research group works with other institutions to answer: How is the world of work changing?

• Our consulting group applies the research to specific environments to address: How can our clients gain competitive advantage from the changes?

• Our coaching and training group delivers custom, on-demand and modular curricula and programs to effect change: What do leaders, managers and employees need to know, learn and experience to be future-ready.


It has been a busy spring as we have worked all around the cycle. Here are a few examples of the work that we’ve been doing that has advanced our clients’ ability to shape the future of their workforce and capitalize on the today’s trends. I’ve chosen a few of the assignments we’ve been working on to showcase below to give you a sense of how others are engaging with topics related to the Future of Work.






New insight into Longevity and the Intergenerational Workforce: Lisa has been working with co-author Fern Lebo on a new book that provides unique insight into the roots of today’s workplaces demographic realities with tools for CEOs, CHROs and front-line managers. The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work has passed international peer review and will be published in early 2019.

Keynote Presentations that challenge outdated thinking: Here are the conferences that we have been part of in the last few weeks. A common “a-ha” moment shared in post-presentation feedback is the realization that we are all actors in how the future will unfold, with responsibilities and abilities to shape what comes next for us, our staff and our society.

• Cannexus 2018 – Canada’s largest career development conference • Alberta Career Development Association Annual Conference

• Benefits Canada  •Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE)

• Ontario Association of Career Management (OACM) Our summer presentation schedule shifts from large conference venues to smaller leadership retreats within companies. We will be co-creating new strategy with leadership teams from: • packaged goods

• professional services • financial services, and • public sector

Respectful Workplace training: Before innovation can be fostered within organizations, employees need to feel that their ideas will be heard and respected. In the last month we’ve delivered training to more than 500 employees on how to leverage de-escalation techniques and upshift the culture of each interaction to create a stronger foundation for everyone’s work and career.

Your Invitation:

The summer is a wonderful time for us to get to know each other better. Let’s pick one topic from this article and set up a time to discuss how it might help be the breakthrough you have been looking for in your own career, for your organization or for your entire sector.


3 Early Lessons from the National Conversation on the Future of Work

 Apr 10, 2018 11:00 AM

Sometimes it takes all of us working together to realize the impact each of us, individually, can have. The work of career practitioners is unusual. We workin areas that have dramatic impact to our clients’ well-being that, in turn, shapes our country’s well- being. We know that a resume is not just a document.

It is a license to independence, self-actualization and stability. A job interview isn’t just a meeting. It is anopportunity, a challenge and a window to what else might be possible. We know these things and we take pride in our work and, yet, we often overlook the broader impact and importance of our sector. As president of Challenge Factory, I cross the country engaging with communities, corporations, organizations and leaders who are interested in demystifying and preparing for the Future of Work. Some of these discussions are very practical. Others are highly emotional. All seek to understand how our world is changing and how work will shift.
Along the way, I have learned three lessons about our profession.

Lesson 1: Sometimes dreaming is easier than thinking

My colleague Tim Casswell from Creative Connection firmly believes that there are some challenges where logic fails. “If we must rely on what we think when it comes to the future of our planet we are in significant trouble,” he asserts. Thinking ensures that we rely on what we know. And, in circumstances where it is possible to know many of the variables, thinking may well be warranted. Predicting the future and our role in it – as a profession, as workers, as citizens – is not one of those circumstances.

3 Early Lessons from the National Conversation on the Future of Work

Consider which of the following questions lead you to more creative, open and engaging

● What do you think we should do to ensure we thrive in the future world of work?


● What do you yearn for and long to see in the future world of work?

Sometimes we need to dream a little about what we want before we worry about what
we think.

Lesson 2: Dreaming is easier in 3rd person – and especially
for future generations

Recently, we challenged audiences at two different conferences to consider the second question in the paragraph above. At Cannexus18, we asked to hear what career practitioners yearn for and long to see for their children and children’s children. At a Toronto HR conference, I left the future generational aspect of the question out. The results were dramatic. While most of the people at both conferences have decades of working life ahead of them, many were more comfortable talking about what they hope happens in the context of next generations. It was intriguing that career practitioners and HR professionals have a lot to say about the future and, yet, it is challenging when the answer is in first person. We are much better responding with legacy statements and what we hope will be true for our children. This key learning carries over into techniques for working with individual clients who are also struggling to see their own place in the world and know what they hope will be true for their children.

Lesson 3: The future is ours to lead

A final learning emerging in this ongoing National Conversation is the realization of just how important career practitioners and HR professionals are as we prepare for the future. The significant changes to workforces and workplaces between now and 2030 will reshape our world. They will have lasting political, social, economic and personal impact and may have been set in motion by technology, but the work and insight needed is about humanity. As professionals focused on the intersection of humanity and work, no one is better equipped to lead Canada through these revolutionary times. As career professionals, we often feel invisible or like one piece of a process that we can never quite fully influence. One finding from all my recent conversations is that it is important to realize that now is our time. It is only with the perspectives of this sector that Canada’s full future potential and workforce possibilities can be conceived of, understood and capitalized upon.

I can’t wait to bring insight from current conversations to ACDC18 – and to take insight from Alberta Career Development Practitioners to the rest of the country. Together, we have powerful tools, experiences and knowledge to lead Canadians as they prepare for the future of work.

Lisa’s work is focused on the Future of Work. As President of Challenge Factory and the Centre for
Career Innovation, Lisa offers a dynamic perspective on how demographics, the freelance
economy and new market dynamics present organizations and individuals with opportunities to
gain strategic advantage. Lisa’s expertise is widely recognized and regularly cited in the Globe and
Mail, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star, Sun Media and on North American TV and Radio.

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