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Virtual Professional Development Course Transforms Summer for Youth

By: Hersharon Sandhu

Amidst the pandemic keeping us all locked down, 23 youth participated in an online employment program offered by Communities United, an initiative developed by the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.  In partnership with The RBC Foundation, the Youth Employment Initiative provided a supportive virtual space to help youth make the most of their summer and upgrade their skills from home.

This initiative focused on areas of emerging employment opportunity, such as social media, digital marketing, digital design, and entrepreneurship. “These online skills will prepare them to present themselves, or their future employer, effectively in the digital world,” shared Tamara Mazur, web designer and content expert for the initiative. “The students were also able to remain connected with their peers and learn networking skills through forums and live Zoom workshops.” 

“What drew me to this program [was] that Communities United was interested in helping me develop professionally. As a new graduate, I have been looking for soft skills to learn to make me more desirable for employment.” – Quote from Participant

With COVID-19 transforming the landscape of work drastically, it was essential to create opportunities that allow our youth to grow, develop, and put themselves in positions for future success despite the regional lockdowns and global uncertainty. “A lot changed this year and with the available jobs largely disappearing, especially for youth, we thought that there needed to be a program for youth to remain engaged and improve their employment opportunities, even if jobs weren’t available,” said Matthew Taylor, the Community Economic Development Coordinator for Communities United. 

Following in the footsteps of the successful Leaders of the Pitch program from 2019, the staff at Communities United quickly transitioned to provide online options for youth. “With everything happening around COVID-19, it wasn’t possible to run an in-person program,” said Taylor. “So, we made the change and embraced a new challenge.”

The shift to an online setting required the creation of a user-friendly E-learning platform that worked as a foundation to prepare participants for the continual shift of the workplace to more virtual settings. In addition to learning key competencies from the Digital Skills courses, the initiative also invited participants to create LinkedIn and MatchWork profiles, further enhancing their qualifications. 

“There was an overwhelming excitement [amongst the] youth to want to do ’something’ with their summer. Although participating in a virtual program lacks that sense of togetherness, it gave youth something to be a part-of; to belong somewhere,” said Kenneth Johnson, program coordinator for the Youth Employment Initiative. 

The Youth Employment Initiative went beyond building digital capabilities by offering a series of stand-alone workshops on professional development. These workshops ranged from a collaboration with Jon Selig, comedian and former technology sales professional, on a Jokes for Job Seekers workshop to workshops focused on excelling in online interviews and developing your personal brand. 

“One of my favourite times was during one of our weekly webinars. [I realized] that interviews don’t have to feel super nerve-wracking. And the interviewer does want the interviewee to feel comfortable and succeed.” – Quote from Participant

In a time of social distancing and working from home, this initiative endeavored to provide a platform to help set our youth up for success. And it was a success! Out of 20 program surveys, 100% agreed that ‘this was a meaningful way to spend my summer.’ 100% said that they learned a lot from the Digital Skills courses. And 100% reported that the skills they gained throughout the summer will help them in their future job search. 

“The best time to engage in professional development is before you need to have it. Having a resume of all the different professional development you have completed really pops when introducing yourself for a job or networking with others who are in the field you would like to pursue,” said Johnson. “It prepares you for your career, as all people should strive to be lifelong learners, and helps you stay on top of your professional practice.”

It’s crucial to develop and offer programs that support and empower our youth as they prepare to enter the workplace, especially if the landscape of work remains virtual. The team at Communities United are grateful for our communities and our partners in working together to make this program such a success. We are thankful to continually be able to support the youth in our communities, and we cannot wait to watch our participants thrive in their future careers.

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