The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has called for a tremendous amount of innovation and a need to adapt to new ways of living and working. Workforce development agencies now have an even greater need to adapt and change, using new systems and technologies to support job seekers to be successful in today’s workplaces.
Innovation and continuous improvement have been part of NPower Canada’s “secret sauce” since our inception in 2014. We have intentionally built a culture of innovation where staff test new ideas and implement changes quickly and effectively. The challenge for NPower Canada and many non-profit workforce development agencies is how can we innovate without large outlays of resources – including funds, time and talent.
One solution that NPower Canada employs is to leverage the expertise of our corporate partners and employers, to gain critical labour market intelligence about the IT industry. This has helped NPower Canada ensure that our programs and services align with rapidly changing skills requirements and talent needs.
NPower Canada consults closely with employers to understand their IT hiring needs, and delivers a sector-based workforce development program that directly places low-income young adults into meaningful employment by equipping them with the skills required for in-demand digital roles.
Some of Canada’s largest employers of IT talent, including Accenture, RBC, TD and TELUS, have partnered with NPower Canada in multiple ways including serving on our Board of Directors and Industry Council. These employers provide input into curriculum design, support program delivery through classroom visits, host site tours and job shadowing opportunities for work-integrated learning, and provide individual mentorship to youth, along with recruiting talent from the program.
NPower Canada’s Industry Council plays an instrumental part in the organization’s ability to innovate to meet the needs of employers. The Industry Council comprises leaders from a variety of organizations that employ junior IT talent. Information gathered at bi-monthly meetings helps to inform the NPower Canada curriculum and provides critical insights and analysis of the IT labour market.
Leveraging this insight has helped NPower Canada evolve by updating existing programs, as well as piloting and launching new programs. Staff develop new curriculum, including the appropriate certifications, based on the Council’s recommendations and then review it with them before rolling out a pilot of the program. Once the pilot is complete, staff report back to the Council, garnering further insights. This allows NPower Canada to test our program offerings without a large investment of resources.
For instance, the Junior Security and Quality Assurance Analyst Program was developed with input from our industry partners who were experiencing an increased need for employees with skills in information security, testing and quality assurance. The ability to develop a program curriculum vetted by our Industry Council provides a pathway for NPower Canada to effectively test iterations of our programs and ensure participants are equipped with skills that give them a competitive advantage.
Assessing program effectiveness
NPower Canada also conducts individual consultations with employers to better understand their changing needs. Evaluation surveys and regular touch points with corporate partners provide insight on the effectiveness of our programs in equipping young people with relevant skills and preparing them for their careers.
This feedback process informs adjustments and improvements of our current programs, ensuring that we continue to meet the changing needs of tech employers.
“Evaluation surveys and regular touch points with corporate partners provide insight on the effectiveness of our programs …”
Feedback from industry has also validated our ability to address the hiring needs and skills requirements of the IT sector. To date, 91% of graduates have been evaluated by their supervisors as meeting or exceeding performance expectations, while 98% of employers report interest in continuing to hire talent from NPower Canada and in recommending the program as a talent solution to industry peers.
Partnering for the future
Partnering with industry has also helped NPower Canada to meet challenges that arise as we grow and scale nationally. As we have scaled our programs to serve other regions, industry insights have helped us to understand the distinct talent needs and challenges in different areas of the country.
For instance, before expanding to Alberta in 2019, NPower Canada leveraged our relationship with Accenture to complete a pro bono consulting engagement to analyze the national labour market for junior-level IT roles. Accenture conducted this research by leveraging sophisticated tools like WANTED Analytics to gain real-time, granular insights about local IT hiring trends. This was supplemented by industry surveys and consultations undertaken with a diverse range of IT employers across Canada. This analysis identified Calgary as among the most promising new markets for NPower Canada’s programs, with a strong local need for IT talent and large numbers of youth who needed an accelerated pathway toward sustainable employment.
NPower Canada leveraged these findings to further consult with local industry partners to adapt its curriculum, partnership outreach and job placement strategies to the needs of Calgary employers. This gave us the confidence to go into a new market with an effective strategy, which led to a successful implementation of the program.
Developing ongoing partnerships
In summary, by leveraging the insights, involvement and business intelligence provided by industry partners, NPower Canada has developed a culture of innovation and continuous improvement to ensure that its programs remain aligned with the rapidly evolving needs of the IT sector. This approach aligns with the “dual client model” that has begun to gain traction more broadly within the Canadian workforce development field, positioning the employer, not only the jobseeker, as a valued client. The premise behind this model is that only by addressing the hiring needs and skills requirements of employers can service providers confidently equip jobseekers for success in today’s competitive labour market.
Rather than moment-in-time employer engagement, the dual client model requires workforce development practitioners to continue consulting with industry partners over time, thereby deepening these partnerships and generating fresh insights to keep programs relevant to changing industry needs. This approach empowers service providers with greater agility in adapting their programs and services to the needs and expectations of industry, which in turn builds the capacity of providers to place jobseekers into meaningful and sustainable employment.