Employers see upside of kids at work

RCMP, Deloitte, Toronto Hydro among those participating in annual event
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/16/2017
Take Our Kids to Work Day
A student participates in the Take Our Kids to Work Day at Copernicus Educational Products in Arthur, Ont., in 2016. Credit: Copernicus Educational Products

Imagine a day at work where you learn how to handle canine teams, a submachine gun and counterfeit bills. That’s just what Grade 9 students got to do when visiting an Ontario RCMP detachment as part of Take Our Kids to Work Day last year.

The day began with an introduction from the officer in charge and details on the gruelling recruitment process, according to Cpl. Louise Savard of the Toronto West detachment in Milton, Ont. The students went on to learn about how to identify counterfeit bills and the dangers of street drugs, while a tactical troop did a “use of force” presentation.

“It’s a very full day, it’s educational because a lot of the kids don’t know what their parents do, and there’s so many things they can do within the RCMP, so it was good day,” she said.

Take Our Kids to Work Day is an annual event organized by educational consultants the Learning Partnership in Toronto, where kids spend the day at the workplace of a parent, relative, friend or volunteer to experience and learn about the world of work. Held on the first Wednesday of November, the program “supports career exploration and career readiness,” helping students to make informed educational decisions.

The event first started about 20 years ago around the notion of experiential learning, getting students more familiar with what’s happening, “and as people started to appreciate the need for this type of contact and interaction between the private sector and education, it developed more and more momentum,” according to Ron Canuel, president and CEO of the Learning Partnership, adding that about 200,000 teens are now involved each year.

“It gives them that type of career exploration; it gives them that opportunity to start to explore, to understand more about careers and what it takes to be successful in a career like that.”

For employers, Take Our Kids to Work Day establishes a connection to youth, he said.

“(Employers) start to understand a little more about ‘How do these kids think?’ ‘What are their expectations?’... Looking at this generation of Grade 9 kids, who are the ripe age of 14, 15, they’re formulating a very different paradigm on life, and what their expectations are. So from an employer point of view, it gives them that opportunity to say, ‘OK, this is a future workforce that has certain expectations, or appears to have those expectations. What are we as employers going to do to respond to this and try to enhance that experience for them?’”

Overall, the best thing employers can do is allow the students to integrate in a way that feels comfortable, but also encourages questions from kids, said Canuel.

“(It’s good if) employers have more strategic questions for kids, where they’re almost doing a bit of mining themselves, in terms of knowledge mining, and hearing what they have to say… Also, it’s a golden opportunity for employers to signal a type of support for education and demonstrating that support. Too often, we criticize public education for missing this or missing that but, in effect, I think it behooves everybody, especially employers, to be active participants in this whole process.”

Variety of programs

It’s really important for kids to experience the workplace, according to Sarah Cobourn, director of corporate responsibility at Deloitte in Toronto, “especially for Deloitte, where people may not understand all the things and services we have here. So for them to come into our offices and walk the halls and meet with people, it sort of demystifies what would be a very scary workplace for kids.”

Typically, the students have a tour of the Deloitte offices, she said, “and then we bring them through a series of hot topics or workshops whereby they get exposed to different services, whether it’s our cyberteam going through a fun 30- to 40-minute workshop about password security and the importance of building a secure password, or even our marketing team who comes in and runs a fun rebranding exercise.”

It’s also about getting employees involved, said Cobourn.

“Our own people are excited to get engaged and feel like they can share with students — who are like sponges and absorb it — so I think (it’s about) engaging your own people and making it feel valued in terms of volunteering their time to help.”

At Toronto Hydro, the best way to get people engaged is to have them market what they do, according to Dave Clark, director of organizational effectiveness, “so it allows some of our employees the pride of talking about all the great things that are happening.”

The actual day involves a “career round robin,” said Jennifer Stulberg, director of talent management at Toronto Hydro, so the students get an appreciation of the different functions of the organization. They also get a hands-on look at the equipment, tools and vehicles at the organization.

“We try to make it as experiential as possible,” said Clark, citing as an example kids having the opportunity to remotely change the connection on a hydro pole while wearing personal protective equipment. “We try and make it more tactile for them.”

It’s an opportunity to speak to kids early, said Stulberg.

“We get to influence the Grade 9 students at a time in their career where they don’t even know what opportunities are available or what educational pathways are available and what options are available for their future — it’s early intervention.”

It’s also industry’s role to educate students as to their career choices, she said.

“For an organization that relies on certified and skills trade and designated professional positions, it’s hard because there’s a mindset about those types of career choices and I think it’s incumbent on us to educate what opportunities exist here.”

Hosting a Take Our Kids to Work Day lets Copernicus Educational Products give back to the community, and makes sense for a company that’s involved in the education industry, according to Kaylyn Belcourt-McCabe, vice-president of Copernicus in Arthur, Ont., which designs and manufactures classroom furniture and equipment.

“It’s really important to expose kids to so many different experiences,” she said. “It also helps us build and support our company culture and it’s a great team-building initiative internally — lots of departments have to work together to make it work and keep the day flowing. And it’s fun for us to have kids again in the office, being an education company — it adds some new life and really gets employees engaged with it as well.”

Students get to design and develop their own product idea, coming up with a concept — such as a guitar stand — researching it, working on CAD (computer-aided drafting) drawings, going to the factory to see the product being made, and then making a sales pitch at the end of the day.

“They’re exposed to a whole different variety of jobs,” said Belcourt-McCabe. “It’s always a really fun day for us, getting to see what the students come up with is really rewarding at the end of the day, so it’s neat to see them so engaged.”

And while it can be a challenge to take employees away from their regular duties, people are excited to be involved, she said.

“They want to share what they are passionate about in their own jobs. You’re not being asked to create a PowerPoint presentation of what you do every day, you’re applying it to something the kids want to design and the kids are excited, so I think it’s actually a fairly easy pitch that way.”

At Festo Canada, employees need only give a half-hour of their time, so the commitment is not too demanding, said Iman Sbeit, administrative co-ordinator at Festo in Mississauga, Ont., which manufactures process control and factory automation solutions.

The company has participated in the event for 11 years, giving students hands-on experience in various departments, she said, such as building and testing a bionic fin gripper or engineering a pneumatic circuit.

Students experience a mechatronics lab, and then job shadow an employee. It’s an opportunity to teach children about the world of industrial automation, said Sbeit.

“It’s not a dirty job — people think that way when they think of factory automation — but we actually employ highly innovative and technological mechatronic solutions to manufacture everyday goods,” she said. “It’s a good way to get the kids in to see what it is we do, and that it is people in highly innovative positions that build these solutions.”

This year’s event will take place Nov. 1.

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