Breaking the ‘no job, no experience’ cycle

RBC’s Career Launch program to give 100 new grads practical workplace experience
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/04/2014

It’s a statistic that gets thrown around almost casually now: The youth unemployment rate is nearly double that of the general population.

Overall, the unemployment rate in Canada clocked in at seven per cent in January. But for those between the ages of 15 and 24, the landscape was twice as bleak, with unemployment sitting at 13.9 per cent.

That’s one of the reasons RBC unveiled its new Career Launch program, aimed at providing 100 recent graduates with the practical workplace skills they need to gain a competitive edge in a tough job market.

“In a nutshell, it’s really to address the cycle of experience: No job, no experience,” said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer at RBC in Toronto.

“As we all know, the youth unemployment and underemployment issue is one that we see getting a lot of attention… and as we look at that, we know that we need to do some more creative things to help our youth develop their full potential.”

And helping a new generation of young people develop their potential is not just a need — it’s a responsibility.

“This is a generational responsibility to ensure that that next generation gets the leg up they need to be globally competitive in a very fiercely competitive, global economy,” said Brad Duguid, Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities.

That’s only going to happen if our young people get real job experience — and that’s what this program does.”

Community engagement, networking

The program is one year long and will offer 100 participants from across the country the chance to move through multiple work rotations to gain experience in different business areas. Participants will be paid during the program.

“It really is a combination of on-the-job experience, community involvement, formal learning, mentoring and networking,” said Hirji.

There will be three separate rotations, beginning with the program associates spending time at one of RBC’s branches to learn foundational business, customer service and workplace skills, said Hirji.

“Things like collaboration, communication, teamwork, leadership and other aspects. And really that experience of being in the workplace will serve them well in wherever their career takes them,” she said.

The second rotation will see the associates go through a community/charity rotation, where they will partner with a not-for-profit organization.

The third and final rotation will see the associates move into a specialized area to gain more specific experience and skills, said Hirji.

“Being a large bank, sometimes it’s not as known that we have many roles in areas like finance, technology, marketing, human resources, and so the associates will have an opportunity to work in one of those areas and develop the experience and a bit of expertise there,” she said.

One thing that sets the Career Launch program apart is its focus on networking and collaboration, according to Shaliza Karim Ladhani, a recent graduate and program associate based in Vancouver.

“The minute I got (to the orientation), I got to meet so many amazing people. There’s a huge culture of collaboration and I think that these relationships that I’m going to build are going to live way past this one-year career launch program,” she said.

Networking opportunities will be offered to encourage the associates to build relationships they can take with them once they’re finished the RBC program, said Hirji.

“Relationships matter. So what we’ll be doing is giving them that opportunity to meet with people from different sectors, as well as from within RBC, to develop those networks.”

Not just another internship

The program has a lot more to offer than typical internship programs for recent grads, or the
co-op placements associates may have had during school, said Hirji.

“The internships when they come in from school or co-op programs, generally they are in one role. So they’re getting job experience that’s very specific to that role. This program here is actually one that builds skills — that builds what I’ll call soft skills that really will open up opportunities for them in whatever career path they choose to go in,” she said.

And those “soft” business skills they’ll learn such as collaboration and networking, are a major draw for associates like Karim Ladhani.

“I have a lot of volunteer experience but I’m hoping to gain a lot of business experience, a lot of workplace skills that I didn’t really gain from the volunteering. So I’m hoping to get a lot of corporate experience. I’m really looking forward to learning RBC’s values and moving those forward in my career,” she said.

“I hope to gain a lot of insight into what business sector I do want to get involved with. I think this program is going to give me a lot of experience in the different sectors, so I hope to take as much as I can from this and learn from there what I really want to do with my career.”

The program will pair its associates with mentors from within RBC, said Hirji, which will hopefully spark ongoing relationships as the outgoing associates become mentors themselves.

“This idea of creating a more socially minded next generation is one that we are excited about, and we really see the associates as they complete their program to actually start to get involved themselves, even in developing the next crop of university graduates and doing the mentoring,” she said.

“There’s a multiplier effect here that can be quite powerful through the experiences that they have… through the program.”

And that multiplier effect won’t stop there, said Duguid, who hopes more organizations follow RBC’s lead by introducing similar programs.

“This is a cutting-edge program. It is incredibly well-thought-through. The example of that is the creativity of including an opportunity to work with a non-profit organization — that’s unique. I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere. So imagine what could be accomplished if other corporate leaders across our economy take on similar programs… The sky’s the limit and the future is very bright for our next generation — despite challenging economic times ahead,” he said.

“It’s really important that this program get out there into the corporate community and I think RBC is not going to be shy about sharing the formula that they’ve put together here with others.”

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