Trusted and longstanding partnerships go a long way to creating and sustaining programming. At the Ottawa Network for Education, our unique model for engaging our public school boards has been a cornerstone of our success – perhaps even more so during pandemic learning.
By working as multiple programs under one umbrella, and using our collective network to reach educators, we are able to tackle education issues in a multi-faceted way, and in conversation with school boards and other stakeholders. For our career readiness programs, this means we can fill a gap in educator contacts with industry, ultimately leading to better career literacy for youth in Ottawa.
This is one example of how career programs can be offered in a network model, specifically in the not-for-profit sector.
Our unique model
The Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE) runs eight programs for K-12 students in Ottawa, including two career readiness programs. These programs enhance public education, and rely on our connections with school board administrators, principals and teachers to bring them into the classroom.
Ottawa has four public school boards, and ONFE works with all of them. To our knowledge, we are the only organization in Canada that has engaged public education in the multi-faceted way that we do. Our suite of programs enhance student lives from morning, when students can access a healthy breakfast at school provided by ONFE; through classes, when ONFE provides in-class volunteers for learning support; to after school, when students can create their own business through ONFE’s offering of JA (Junior Achievement) programs.
We have reached over 16,000 students from Grades 6-12 with our career readiness programming over the past three years, through the JA Ottawa program, Employer Connections program and our new Coding pilot program. In these programs, students learn about career paths, financial literacy and entrepreneurship, and develop important workplace readiness skills.
Educators continually express the need for this programming that connects students with mentors who share their life experience, their challenges and potential career opportunities. The teachers we work with benefit from ONFE’s larger network, as they don’t often have the time or the community connections necessary to find professional mentors to bring into the classroom.
Engaging our most important stakeholders
Over our 35-year organizational history, we have developed strong relationships with each school board, through a number of activities:
1) Inclusion of each local Director of Education on ONFE’s Board of Directors. By involving the school board Directors in ONFE’s work, together we are engaged in supporting student well-being and student success. Each Director of Education is elected to the ONFE Board of Directors and holds this position during their tenure.
2) Offering different but complimentary programs. Before ONFE existed in its current form, several of our programs existed as separate entities. By bringing them together under one umbrella, we increased the impact of each. ONFE can present all of its programs to meet school board needs, and act as one organization when approaching partners, sponsors, volunteers and donors.
3) Staying in touch with school board communications teams. By developing relationships with those that share information to principals, teachers and students, we are able to share our program offerings regularly. It also provides us with another way to stay up to date on school needs.
One of the benefits of our model became even more obvious during COVID-19. Because we regularly engage schools in multiple initiatives, from nutrition to career readiness, we hold a privileged place of trust with school boards. When the pandemic forced school closures, we were able to engage in conversation with administrators about the new needs created by the situation and adjust to meet those needs.
“Educators continually express the need for this programming that connects students with mentors who share their life experience, their challenges and potential career opportunities.”
In our career readiness stream, adjustments included providing World of Choices programming via video conference to students, introducing them to business owners, manufacturers and professionals in other industries. Last year we launched the JA Canada Digital Campus in Ottawa, and we will soon begin a virtual JA Company program, leading high school students through the creation of their own online businesses.
In our ongoing conversation with school boards and educators, we continue to evolve as we better understand their needs, and as the needs change.
Network to meet needs
While career counselling doesn’t always involve young people in schools, the network model is still one to consider. What needs are your clients or larger stakeholders feeling, outside of the direct services that you offer? Can you form partnerships with other professionals or programs that complement your services? Your approach to clients, and the following relationship-building, can be even more effective if clients know that all of their needs can be addressed by one entity.
This approach isn’t new; it’s a common model for media and marketing agencies, for example. What the Ottawa Network for Education demonstrates is that the model can also work in the not-for-profit sector and in education. Many organizations are single issue; ONFE programs address diverse issues, and various student and teacher needs. Perhaps more than ever, the ability to tackle complex problems in a multi-faceted way is valuable, as is the capacity to solve them in an open, trusting dialogue with clients.