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Junior Achievement programs equip students with skills for success

To stay competitive in the economy and keep up with the recent dramatic changes in the workplace, young people need training to navigate career pathways and develop transferrable skills.

While business and financial education is becoming a greater part of the curriculum in elementary and high school systems, students need mentorship and experiential learning opportunities to help them keep pace and build relevant skillsets for future jobs, says Jennifer James, vice-president of programs and charter services for JA Canada.

“There used to be a significant gap between the education system and what Junior Achievement offers,” she says, “[such as] mentorship and teaching focused on entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy.”

Although that gap is narrowing, digital disruption, automation, demographic shifts and the pandemic are impacting all sectors. James says employees will be expected to stay current.

“They need to be proactive in their thinking and have the ability to adapt and pivot,” she says. “JA is committed to responding to the evolving landscape by innovating programs.”

A cross-country RBC research project discovered foundational skills such as critical thinking, co-ordination, social perceptiveness, active listening and complex problem-solving will be as essential to successful careers as digital fluency and resource management.

In 2017, JA Canada partnered with RBC Future Launch, an initiative to help young people develop the right attitude, work skills and network to get ahead. The resulting World of Choice program exposes youth to a variety of career pathways, connects them with mentors and develops skills and a personal career action plan. More than 50,000 youth have been reached by this program.

Small- and medium-size businesses account for 90 per cent of private-sector jobs and contribute $1-trillion to Canada’s gross domestic product, according to the Business Development Bank of Canada, so entrepreneurship is vital to the country’s economy. Employers will want to hire individuals who understand the process of starting a company, says James.

However, “entrepreneurship goes beyond just giving youth the skills they need to run their own business,” says James. “It’s a mindset.”

According to Ruodan Shao, associate professor of organization studies at Schulich School of Business at York University, an ability to think creatively is also vital in the new work landscape.

“Workplaces are trying to introduce artificial intelligence and automation to replace certain kinds of basic work,” she says, “but people’s creative skills cannot be replaced. Someone needs to come up with the ideas for computers and robots to execute on.”

Indeed, the RBC study found 25 per cent of Canadian jobs will be heavily disrupted by technology in the coming years.

“You need to be comfortable doing things virtually and know how to manage technology,” says Shao. Being able to learn remotely has been a must for today’s students, she adds, and they will be required to keep up that skill into the future.

“Students build digital skills through our online campus and new complimentary programs and partnerships, like that with,” says James.

JA has a long history of partnership with major banks supporting business and financial education, but now partners are expressing interest in exposing youth to jobs in manufacturing technology and skilled trades, for example.

In the coming decades, Canada will face a shortage of at least 10,000 workers in nationally recognized Red Seal trades; new research by RBC centered on skilled trades shows the demand for digital and “soft” skills, like creativity and problem-solving, is expected to rise, including in critical trades professions.

Workplace culture, too, has shifted, says James, including a move towards acknowledging and respecting people’s personal lives, mental health, their caregiving roles and how their backgrounds may affect access to success.

“People are paying more attention to diversity and inclusion,” says Shao. “We need to learn how to talk about these issues and aid in designing workplaces that embrace everyone.”

JA’s programs like Stronger Together teach students the value of diversity and how it contributes to improving morale, creativity, teamwork and productivity. JA is also looking to refresh and innovate programs, such as its longstanding Success Skills, to infuse mental-health education and resiliency.

“JA’s programs continue to evolve by showcasing more careers and building next-generation skills,” explains James. “With our partners, we can build a pipeline of students with versatile skills entering careers that meet economic demand.”

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with JA Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.