Engaging and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders (Guest commentary)

Career conference provides non-traditional forum for encouraging high-priority students
By Kareena Elliston
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/10/2008

Too many Canadian youth are entering the labour market untrained, despite the fact the majority of jobs out there require at least a high school education.

Numbers from the Toronto District School Board show 50 per cent of black students are failing and dropping out of school before Grade 12. Therefore, it’s apparent an innovative approach to engaging and inspiring students is necessary to improve the trajectory of their post-secondary-school lives.

To change this trend, a fresh look at what it takes to engage and advance ethnically diverse students, particularly of African Canadian heritage, is required. One solution lies with progressive business and thought leaders sparking a new dialogue with youth and, in effect, closing the information gap. By creating rich opportunities that connect ethnically diverse professionals with students of similar backgrounds, these statistics could become a thing of the past.

The third annual Leaders of Tomorrow Business and Technology Conference, presented by the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA), took place in November in Toronto. A creative medium for highlighting the myriad career choices in the business and technology sectors, it brought together 250 Grade 11 and 12 students from socio-economically challenged and under-represented backgrounds to meet with senior executives from the corporate world.

Recognizing Canada’s diversity as an asset to the business world, the sponsors of this event — which included BMO Financial Group and Ernst & Young — joined forces with the BBPA to provide students with the essential tools needed to attain success in the corporate world.

Over two days, students at the conference were inspired by career insights and advice shared by executives as well as knowledge they gained from various business-related workshops. The students put into practice their newly acquired skills as the conference closed with a career fair, at which many major corporations and universities were represented.

The conference sought to encourage and inspire these students to aim high in terms of academic and career aspirations. After all, youth from low-income households are one-half as likely to attend university as those from higher income families, according to Statistics Canada.

“By exposing high school students from socio-economically challenged backgrounds to business and technology as viable career options, we hope to broaden the students’ perspectives and inspire them to envision future careers for themselves that they may not have otherwise imagined,” said Stanley Julien, vice-president, BMO Financial Group, and chair of the BBPA Harry Jerome Scholarship Fund.

Focusing on education, career opportunities and transferable skills that pertain to the fields of business and technology, the conference has become an innovative tool for corporate Canada to discover and hone in on the business talent of tomorrow.

The event has proven to be a positive solution for meeting the educational needs of students, particularly from high-priority neighbourhoods. With the overarching goals of uplifting and inspiring students, this learning opportunity has been successful in helping disenfranchised students bridge the gap between university programs and real-life careers.

Next year’s conference promises to reach an even greater number of students. While there is much to be done in order to turn around the negative statistics regarding black youth and higher education, the dedicated group of sponsors, professionals and educators involved are committed to moulding today’s youth into the leaders of tomorrow.

Kareena Elliston is the co-chair and founder of the Black Business Professional Association’s Leaders of Tomorrow Conference. She recently completed an internship at TD Bank Financial Group and will be pursuing graduate studies.

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