An open letter to organizational leaders and the HR community: The Future of Work Is Not Now

 Mar 18, 2020 2:00 PM

As President of Challenge Factory, a research-based consultancy focused on the Future of Work, I collaborate with hundreds of policymakers, post-secondary leaders, and corporate executives from around the world. We focus on five drivers that are shaping the Future of Work – including the freelance economy and digital platforms that are leading to different types of remote work. At conferences, it’s become a common mantra for speakers to urge their audiences to consider and accept that the Future of Work is already here.

Things have changed. The Future of Work is not now.  

I might not have felt so strongly about this statement three months ago. Or even two weeks ago. But, today, I want you to know that the decisions you are making for your workforce in this fraught moment need to serve the best interests of your employees, customers, and company—right now. Long-term planning needs to be paused in the face of short-term challenges and needs. Prioritization is key. There will be time to gather lessons learned in the coming weeks and months that can lead to a better informed and more innovative workforce strategy down the road.

Now is a time for creative, practical, and clearly communicated action.

If your company has been thinking about how different work modes and arrangements might become part of your future strategy, these next few weeks should not be used as a proof-test.

For example, faculty members at universities and colleges must now shift in-person classroom learning online—immediately, and without substantial preparation. It would be a mistake to think that the coursework delivered in the coming weeks reflects a true online learning experience. Now is not the time to become experts in online learning, or to try to implement complex solutions. Instructors need to deliver the best learning environment they can using available tools, while paying attention to the current needs of their current students.

You need to do the same.

In the short term, leaders need to focus on maintaining and modifying current operations. Providing teams with the resources they need right now will help them deliver the best experience to your customers and remain committed to the overall mission of your company.

Today is a time for concentrating on the immediate, creating calm and stability, and building resiliency in the face of uncertainty. I promise there will be time later to reflect, strategize, and emerge with clear workforce innovation plans in the future.

For now, you should focus on these four priorities:

1. Employees may need new or different tools to do their jobs. Who can help you get what is needed? 

PRO TIP: If you need technology solutions, consider approaching your current service providers, customers, or partners. You may find companies (that you otherwise wouldn’t consider) are willing to share, loan, and provide you with support or resources.

2. Employees need to understand new policies, know that their work matters, and feel how it’s connected to the work of others.

PRO TIP: Now is the time to increase your support for employees, especially open lines of communication. Create a weekly schedule with regular updates on different topics that you can share across the company. Stick to the schedule so everyone knows what to expect.

3. People need to feel connected. There’s a big difference between being remote and being isolated. Your frontline managers also need help staying connected to their staff in ways that are useful, authentic, and encouraging.

PRO TIP: Create or modify simple templates, checklists, and suggestions that can you provide to your managers. Your goal should be to help them ensure consistency across teams. Start with the basics, such as daily or weekly team check-ins over Zoom or other video technology.

4. Everyone needs to stay focused on being productive—while also being given some slack as work and life truly lose their boundaries for a bit. We know these are tough times, and there are more ahead. But there’s also a lot of work to do. If your business slows down, think about short-term tasks that may be useful and achievable. What new sales, marketing, or product development work can be done instead? What kind of customer feedback can be gathered to improve your product or service? What do you have that your customers, partners, or community members might need?

PRO TIP: Share stories or hold video calls for 1) leaders to share their experiences as work and life shifts, and 2) employees to share successes, concerns, and ideas for how to keep improving your business.

One thing that is now certain: we are in this together. Be kind to yourself. The best way to solve the world's problems is to take care of yourself, those close to you at work and at home and your business. 

Until the end of April, if you need a sounding board or a source for specific resources and tools, let’s book twenty minutes together and talk. To book a time, please send an email to:


Jumping in the Deep End: Career Development 101 and Cannexus20

 Feb 11, 2020 9:00 AM

By Taryn Blanchard

Every January, CERIC hosts Canada’s largest career development conference in Ottawa. Despite the cold winter (or maybe because of it), Cannexus is truly a sight to behold. Career practitioners of all stripes descend on the national capital for a half-week of knowledge sharing, networking, and inspiration overload. It gets loud and busy, and navigating the packed schedule takes a surprising amount of time and energy. (Luckily, there’s a slick mobile app for all your conference planning and connecting needs.)  

This year, it just so happened that Cannexus20 would serve as my whirlwind introduction to the field of career development—and my new job. 

I joined Challenge Factory as its new Research Coordinator less than a month ago. (Less than a month!) When I first met with Lisa—Challenge Factory’s Founder and President—in December about the possibility of coming on board, it quickly became clear that career development isn’t only about jobs or labour markets or economies or statistics (although those are all important). Career development, at its core, is about humans and happiness.  

With my background in anthropology and the human rights sector, human-based research is my bread-and-butter. So I was hooked right away, and spent my Christmas holiday crossing my fingers for good news. 

In addition to getting that good news and starting at Challenge Factory come mid-January, I was even luckier to be invited to accompany Lisa to Cannexus20. It was an opportunity to get a crash course in career development and an ethnographic snapshot of its practitioners. (Anthropologist, remember? I got a Ph.D. by studying a professional community of practice, and here I found myself dropped in the middle of another—this one shiny and unfamiliar and rapidly professionalizing right before my eyes!) 

So what did I learn? Two invigorating and inspiring themes sifted to the top of my Cannexus20 experience: community and storytelling. Let’s get into it. 

The Fictional Divide between Personal and Professional 

Community and storytelling play important roles in career development on (at least) two levels. 

On the one hand, they affect the profession itself. A large part of Cannexus is about the work of defining and shaping the profession of career development into a cohesive community. The values that career practitioners share are made a priority, as is building productive relationships with one another. Out of these priorities come attempts to create unified and useful stories about the profession.

On the other hand, community and storytelling are also taken up as crucial elements of career development work. In session after session that I attended, Cannexus presenters and participants drew on them as tool, process, and goal. 

Right out of the gate, keynote speaker Zita Cobb of the Shorefast Foundation opened the conference by explaining how today’s hyper-connected and competitive world (capitalism, economy, technology, climate—oh my!) is all about finding community and place. Culture and nature and value all reside in community, and career building—life itself, really—needs to rediscover its roots.

In a panel discussion about enhancing economic activity through public, private, and nonprofit collaboration, a group of career development leaders emphasized the need to rethink and re-envision sectors as community members. Big business and industry are now treated as activities that take place outside or above the community. This creates siloed and unaccountable systems, missed opportunities, and people left behind.   

So how do we return to our roots, and reconnect industry with community? By telling human stories, of course, regardless of the type of data being used or the content being produced. If we collaborate as members of the same human community, a vibrant and viable world of work will take shape—at both local and national levels. 

Stories, then, are forces of opportunity and creativity. But there’s also a darker side to stories. 

As Gray Poehnell—one of the field’s seminal career practitioners—showed in his session with Australian career education manager Leela Darwall, young people struggle with internalized stories of hopelessness, stress, and isolation. The pressure that students are under incubates their belief that they are never good enough, regardless of how accomplished and prepared they are for the world of work. Not surprisingly, these stories prevent them from finding rewarding careers and living their most authentic lives. 

Helping young people, and anyone else struggling in their career journey, means changing these harmful internalized stories into ones of hope and possibility. It means facilitating ways for them to realign their own career goals with the things in life that make them happy. After all, career development is all about giving people back their control, as Professor Tristram Hooley pointed out during his keynote address. 

The world of work is changing in ways that are both exciting and scary. “Career” is a loaded and lifelong endeavor, and it’s only getting more complicated. But if I learned anything at Cannexus20 and during my plunge into the field of career development, it’s that the cornerstones which make us human—hey, like community and storytelling!—offer all the pathways to success and fulfillment that we need. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve barely scratched the surface of career development, but that’s quite okay. I’m looking forward to learning and growing here with the Challenge Factory team—and with the Challenge Factory community! 


Today is the best day to talk about Veterans

 Nov 12, 2019 2:00 PM

November 11th is the only sure day of the year that Veterans are on everyone’s minds. Poppies are everywhere – on lapels, websites and in social media feeds. Everyone thinks about Veterans on November 11.

I want to talk about Veterans on November 12th. And 13th. And January 21st. And May 22nd. Even more importantly, I want you to be talking with Veterans on those days, too. I want you to be talking to a Veteran next August, not because you are grateful for their service. But because they’ve reduced your operating costs by 30% in their first six months on the job. Or cut turnover in a critical part of your business by 25% in the first quarter saving you time and money while increasing productivity.

At Challenge Factory, we provide solutions to uncover hidden talent pools and, in Canada, the most adaptable, trained, versatile and steady current and future leaders come from the Canadian Forces. Much effort is going into assisting them prepare for the adjustment to civilian employment, with new pilot programs underway. That’s a great start.

But the labour market is a partnership between those with the skills and those who hire the skills. We need to ensure managers have the hiring tools they need so that misconceptions and biases don’t prevent small- and medium-sized businesses from tapping this talent source.

If you are involved in recruitment and hiring at your company, we’d love to talk with you. It won’t take more than 20 minutes of your time and you’ll help inform a playbook that directly addresses skill gap and recruitment challenges you are experiencing. We’ll even make sure you get a free copy.

Join us and the other future-focused organizations who know that Remembrance Day is an important day to recognize past service and who also know that today’s Veterans are a key demographic to include in any future-focused workforce strategy.

To learn more, visit the project page - or contact us today. 


ICYMI: Report from our October Executive Breakfast

 Oct 28, 2019 2:00 PM

On October 16, 2019, Challenge Factory convened an Executive Breakfast to share insights President Lisa Taylor had gathered on her recent trip to Europe and expand upon key themes that are shaping the Future of Work in Canada.  

The breakfast was attended by executives from AON, Bramm Research, Gartner Research, the Insurance Institute, KPMG, Manulife, P&G, Stantec and the Workforce Planning Board of York Region, representing a broad cross-section of sectors.  

Prior to the session, participants were asked what led them to register for the Breakfast. Not surprisingly, there was a significant focus on finding tools, identifying skills and addressing concerns related to specific technologies.  

During the Breakfast, the group shifted from a gathering of executives, to a Community of Activators – with new questions and priorities identified and, as the morning unfolded, new types of conversations and themes emerged.  

We were able to shift away from some of the very practical and tangible details of how the world of work might change and begin to discuss how we might be the leaders who help shape a future of work even without having all of the definitive answers. 

We began to identify what would be desirable both in how the world of work looks in the future and in how it feels over these next years as we navigate and lead our teams to the future.  

These findings and feedback from a post-event survey informed our decision-making as we completed the final details on a new program we are launching – the Community of Activators.  

Did you know: 

  • 100% of Executive Breakfast participants requested additional, scheduled group learning sessions 
  • 85% of participants indicated individual career and leadership support would be valuable 
  • 66% of participants requested opportunities to bring learning in-house for their teams 
  • 25% of participants were interested in becoming trained (“train the trainer”) to facilitate Future of Work conversations in their workplaces and communities 

This new community will provide a variety of ways for you to be involved. Each member can determine their own priorities and the right balance between experiential learning, community engagement and personal career development. 

We are excited to be launching this community in November - during Canada Career Month. Click here for more information and an application package.


Coming to Canada in 2020: The Future of Work Community of Activators

 Oct 28, 2019 2:00 PM

WHO are Activators? 

Activators are leaders inside of organizations, regions and communities. Some represent large organizations. Others find themselves on the leading edge of change without a natural peer group. They are asking questions that are not being answered by skill-focused or technology-based communities of practice. 

WHAT are Activators? 

At their core, Activators are curious, informed and brave. There are two types of Activators: 

Talent Trailblazers: These Activators engage in opportunities to expand knowledge and networks. They are focused on summary-level learning and engagement in order to determine how and where to engage more deeply in the future. Their focus is on creating the right conditions for change and leadership growth within their own organization and to enhance personal career goals. 

Talent Revolutionaries: These Activators are more intentional in their engagement with this community. They also look to get out of their usual stomping grounds and focus their professional development on experiences that have them meeting different populations and bringing learnings home. Their focus is less on knowledge sharing and more on creative disruption and action. These Activators have challenging questions and a thirst for diverse and atypical resources. In addition to macro-level topics and challenges, these activators are looking to learn how their own attitude, capacity and capabilities can be best leveraged for maximum impact in their work to support and transform their communities.  

WHAT will the Activator Community do? 

Working together, this community addresses the unique needs, fears, hopes and requirements of those who are creating and shaping the future of work. It is a place to bring big questions and test wild ideas. It is also a place to recharge depleted batteries – the work of change activation is not easy. 

WHAT does Challenge Factory Bring to the Table? 

We’ve spoken with a variety of community leaders, organizations and individuals across Canada to understand where there are gaps in the opportunities available to Activators. We have combined these findings with recent discussions with community leaders in Scandinavia, Singapore and the US. We learned where Canada is leading the world in terms of technology advancement and where we are trailing other jurisdictions that are tackling significant challenges we have not yet begun to address in meaningful ways.  

Our promise to you is that every interaction will challenge and extend your understanding of the future of work, that this will be a positive, affirming community and that it will address topics from the largest system-wide challenges to your own personal attitudes and capabilities, to allow you to thrive in this ever-changing world of work.  

WHEN Do We Get Going? 

These programs will begin in January 2020 with limited enrollment. They are intended to combine access to leading market research focused on the future of work with personal and team development tools and programs.  

HOW Do I Sign Up? 

Programs are customized for each participant after an initial qualifying interview where we will align your goals to the program offerings and tailor your participation to fit your needs. Click here to receive an application package in November. 


Intern Reflection Series - A note from Zali

 Aug 20, 2019 10:00 AM

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.


Intern Reflection Series - A note from Nicole

 Aug 20, 2019 10:00 AM

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.

What’s Next

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


Intern Reflection Series - A note from Kelly

 Aug 20, 2019 10:00 AM

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.

There’s still so much more to learn!


Intern Reflection Series - Lisa Taylor speaks about the program

 Aug 19, 2019 5:00 PM

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:

Kelly (Marketing)   -  Nicole (Research)   -  Zali (Human Resources) 




Is Canada Leading in the Future of Work?

 Jul 29, 2019 2:00 PM

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.

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