Midnight Sun

 Jul 4, 2019 5:00 PM

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.




From the Road: Part 2 - International Edition

 Jun 17, 2019 10:00 AM

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 am currently in Norway attending the International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy Symposium.  While here, I am meeting with the delegations from the other 33 countries and spending time learning how their countries, economies and institutions are shaping the Future of Work.

I have taken with me questions and perspectives from the Challenge Factory community. We have been asking what you would want me to tell global representatives about you, your organization or work in Canada. Here is some of what you said:

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.



From the Road: Part I – Kitchener and Newfoundland

 May 27, 2019 2:00 PM

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?

Thanks for being with me on this ride!

Lisa Taylor



It's a business book, yet so very personal

 Apr 15, 2019 3:00 PM

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.


Canada and The Talent Revolution

 Mar 28, 2019 9:00 AM

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.   

I always encourage our Challenge Factory team to stop looking for answers and start watching for clues. The future of work is not a pre-defined puzzle to be solved. It is an unfolding mystery with plot twists and new characters that continually change the story.  

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. 


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.


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