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Take Our Kids to Work Day has been around for nearly three decades, offering a chance for high-school students to experience a workplace environment firsthand. While the annual event is popular, it excludes many of the grade nine students it was designed for. Now a few organizations are working to change that.

The non-profit Ladder 2 Rise is dedicated to helping youth excel at school, and is especially aimed at those who are underserved. The group would like to see the event become known as Take a Youth to Work Day, because not all young people have a parent able to share their job experience, they say.

“There are a lot of experiences and things that myself and my siblings did not do when we were younger. One of which is … Take Our Kids to Work Day,” says founder Ruth Nyaamine, who is originally from Ghana. Ms. Nyaamine runs the charity as a side passion and works at Telus as its chief diversity and inclusion officer. “Lived experiences are your best indicator of the part you’re supposed to play in this world.”

Her family emigrated to Canada when she was young. Her parents were professionals back home – her mother a nurse and her father a soldier – but their credentials were not recognized in Canada. They worked multiple jobs, and she says her parents were focused on making ends meet.

“[Youth] are not responsible for the social circumstances that they’re a part of,” Ms. Ms. Nyaamine says. “So what can we all do to make sure that we’re not forgetting about those kids and make sure that they can really benefit from being exposed to other settings; being exposed to other narratives.”

One of the main initiatives for Ladder 2 Rise is an event they hold on Take Our Kids to Work Day, which is held on the first Wednesday in November. Their event takes place in-person at various locations across the country and online. There, students from all walks of life who may not have a parent they can follow to work, or a parent in an industry they are interested in, are immersed in a full day of mentorship.

Youth are connected with professionals in a structured curriculum, moving between work stations that cover important topics such as financial literacy, resumé-building, interview skills and behind-the-scenes looks at different types of careers they may be interested in pursuing.

“Personally, I really wish when I was a kid we had a program like this with that level of engagement, inclusion and diversity,” says Henry Xu tao He, who also works at Telus.

Mr. He is part of the LGBTQ+ community and has been a volunteer for the event for the past two years. Mr. He says it offers an opportunity for him to not only give back to younger people, but to connect with them, and to learn from other professionals.

One moment in particular sticks with him. He remembers one youth sharing that they wanted to be a real estate agent. Mr. He assumed the person saw it as a good job where you could make decent money. But when he asked why, the student said, “because I want to be able to help other people find their own home, because I know how it feels without one.”

Mr. He says one of the best parts is seeing how the youth react during the day. “You can see their faces glow when they are inspired.”

Outside Take a Youth to Work Day, Ladder 2 Rise has two other programs, which focus on providing continuing mentorship and helping students gain access to internships and co-op programs.

Jacinth Tracey is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager at health benefits provider Green Shield Canada (GSC). She has worked with Ms. Nyaamine to place three youths at the company this past summer for internships and co-op positions.

“We were not really getting much diversity in our summer student pool, because most of GSC is situated in Windsor, [Ont.], which is pretty homogeneous with respect to racial diversity [and] gender orientation,” she says.

By working with Ladder 2 Rise and other diverse job boards and external organizations, GSC increased the percentage of racialized summer students at the company this year to 33 per cent, up from 11 per cent the previous year.

This year, for the first time, GSC will extend invitations to their work-day program to young people outside the company, However, they will not call it Take Our Kids to Work Day – that implies that you need to be related to someone at the organization. It’s now known as Take Your Youth to Work Day at GSC, and the company has engaged employee resource groups to act as host parents.

Tenesha Wilson is the parental guardian of Amanye Simms. Through Ladder 2 Rise, and the non-profit’s close partnership with Queen’s University in Kingston, Amanye was able to attend a week-long camp offered by the university.

Alongside other Black youth, Amanye had a glimpse into postsecondary life, exposed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs, and worked with the engineering team at the university.

“I knew that it would be of great benefit for [Amanye],” Ms. Wilson says. “It offered a unique opportunity to learn while being empowered in a very diverse space with like-minded individuals.”

Amanye had always been curious about STEM, but didn’t know anyone who could expose her to those fields.

“Her confidence boosted after having attended the program,” Ms. Wilson says.

Amanye, who is now in grade nine, will participate in the Take a Youth to Work Day event through Ladder 2 Rise this year where she can continue to explore different career paths and gain more insight into what’s possible in the STEM fields.