Having led several national education projects, I know transformative changes in K-12 education can only be brought to scale through multi-jurisdiction collaboration. Yet, Canada has 13 autonomous education departments that meet and share information but rarely collaborate. The Canadian Government has no jurisdiction over K-12 education. Thus, there is no platform for a collaborative approach to strategic change in education on a national scale, at a time when education systems globally are being challenged to reimagine education like never before.
In his Papineau constituency office in 2013, The Honourable Justin Trudeau and I discussed whether there could be a role for the federal government in K-12 education. We discussed the need for more personalized, project-based, and experiential learning opportunities for students, and the important role of organizations like Katimavik, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, the Canada Youth Service Corps, and others. I described some of the pan-Canadian K-12 projects funded by the federal government with in-kind contributions from the provinces and territories and other national partners.
I explained to Mr. Trudeau that, as national coordinator of several pan-Canadian K-12 education projects, I have witnessed first-hand that when "best minds" are assembled in a "Team Canada" approach to a shared challenge, the results can be world-class (i.e., CHOICES, The Real Game, Blueprint for Life/Work Designs, Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners). Moreover, the products can readily be scaled with no sales force. "So, you're saying an appropriate role for the federal government in K-12 education is a convening role?", Mr. Trudeau asked. I said yes, but not a controlling role. The provinces and territories have historically welcomed a federal contribution to initiatives suggested and agreed upon by them. Furthermore, they are motivated to rapidly deploy the results throughout their systems.
The New Brunswick Department of Education presented a proposal to create a non-profit national agency, the Transitions Canada Coalition, to the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada in October 2017. No provincial or territorial ministry rejected the proposal outright and most reacted with interest, even intrigue. Still, after two years of encouraging meetings and presentations, federal support waned with an election, changing personalities, and changing policies. Canada’s new Youth Employment and Skills Strategy excludes in-school youth. The Future Skills Centre, created and funded by the federal government to encourage and support initiatives to enhance skills development, won't accept proposals involving youth in the K-12 system. In not having a presence in public education, the Canadian Government is unique among its international peers.
Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most important weapon you can use to change the world." If true, this would also apply to changing one's country. Despite my deep disappointment, I’m proud of this voluntary crusade. I remain hopeful that coherent and collaborative national action will again be brought to addressing common challenges as, together, we reimagine learning for Canada’s five million K-12 students.
Excerpts: Transitions Canada
Coalition 2017 Proposal
Canada’s public education system ranks among the best in the world with respect to PISA test results. Yet, nearly 50% of graduates face serious challenges in finding work that aligns with their interests and academic credentials. Many languish in low-wage jobs burdened with substantial student loan debt for programs that are not opening anticipated employment doors. Some are further burdened with stress-induced mental health challenges. Marginalized groups like indigenous, at-risk, low-income, and physically or mentally challenged youth and young new Canadians face additional challenges. At the same time, Canadian employers say their inability to find enough new hires with “real-world” skills and experience is impeding productivity and competitiveness.
This situation is not unique to Canada. Indeed, youth unemployment and underemployment are global phenomena. While our education system is preparing students better than most for more education, it is failing to prepare them adequately for life beyond education. In a very positive step forward, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada approved a new Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions in July 2017. The Framework articulates 11 benchmarks for quality transition policies, programs, and implementation strategies. The Framework, and its accompanying assessment tool and action planning template, are key resources to support education as it works to prepare students to successfully transition from school to fulfilling adult lives. In another promising step forward, the Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET) is developing a framework of competencies Atlantic Canadians require to navigate and propel learning, work, and transitions through the lifespan. These and other initiatives to collaborate across provincial/territorial boundaries in order to strengthen career readiness and promote successful student transitions underscore the importance of this issue and are promising signs of concerted and collective action.
The Transitions Canada Coalition proposes an unprecedented national collaboration to identify and scale innovations that will benefit students, teachers, parents, businesses - entire communities and regions across Canada. The TCC will be led by individuals who have inspired and coordinated highly successful pan-Canadian projects and guided by a pro bono National Advisory Council of experts and representatives from key stakeholder organizations in Canada who want a voice in re-imagining the future of Canada’s education system. The National Advisory Council will be the steering committee to establish and prioritize the TCC objectives and determine which other organizations and stakeholders should join the TCC.
The TCC will achieve its objectives through the following actions:
Create a National Advisory Council
Host Annual National Transitions Summits
Create Resource Portals
Source Solutions and Create Implementation Plans for Agreed Projects
YOUTH STRUGGLE TO TRANSITION FROM EDUCATION TO WORK
Life is full of transitions. From home to school; from primary to secondary to postsecondary education; from education to work; from family to independence; from single to partnered. Canadian graduates are now finding the transition from school to work fraught with peril. Over forty percent of 18 to 30-year-olds are unemployed or underemployed in low wage jobs unrelated to their interests and studies. Many are deep in debt and dependent upon their parents/guardians or entitlement programs. They don’t know how to connect with good 21st-century jobs. Moreover, employers claim they lack the skills and “real-world” experience they need. Thus, Canadians languish as employers seek the talent they need globally.
CURRENT EDUCATION OUTCOMES – YOUTH FACTS AND STATISTICS
Canada’s youth population has significantly shrunk yet youth underemployment is at an all-time high. Thirteen percent of 15 to 29 year-olds - over 900,000 young Canadians - are NEETs (not in education, employment, or training). Two in five out-of-school 20 to 30 year-olds are unemployed or underemployed.
At the same time, Canadian young people are more educated than ever. Canada has the highest postsecondary participation rate in the OECD and the vast majority of our youth hold at least a high school diploma. Clearly, providing our students with more of the same education is important but not sufficient. Conversely, employers in growth industries are challenged to find young people with the ‘real- world’ skills and experience they need. Canada has a record number of high paying technology jobs that continue to go unfilled because there are not enough qualified workers available to fill them. A 2015 global McKinsey study found that only 34% of employers think that youth are prepared for the workplace. A 2013 survey conducted by Pathways to Education found that more than half of Canadians (54%) believe youth are not even moderately prepared to meet the needs of the emerging job market.
Unfortunately, young people are facing an uphill battle to find employment in our tech-driven global workforce because they are not prepared to enter or progress in the workplaces of the 21st century. This newly trending failure to effectively transition our young people from school to work is resulting in staggering economic, human, and social costs. Many young people are deep in student loan debt with precarious, minimum-wage jobs, unclear future prospects, and continuing dependence on their parents/guardians or entitlement programs. Moreover, young people’s anxiety and stress levels related to the uncertainty of their career futures are high resulting in increased mental health challenges. The federal government’s Youth Employment Strategy supports local initiatives, but there is currently no vehicle for pan-Canadian collaboration to identify and enhance genuine career readiness “best practices” and develop and test new career readiness innovations. K-12 students are the largest “captive audience” in the country and they represent Canada’s home-grown talent pool. At present, few school systems explicitly prioritize career readiness. Inadequate career readiness at high school graduation leads to costly workforce and social issues downstream. Learning integrated into workplace and workplace learning integrated into education are both important to manage this environment. Collaboration and partnering are proven ways to improve the career readiness of youth. They may be the most important way.
Simply put, our current approaches to educating our youth no longer suffice to prepare them for today’s workforce. There is an urgent need to re-think and modernize our approaches to building career readiness and ensuring that students transition to success after leaving formal education.
CAREER READINESS: A NEW PRIORITY FOR EDUCATION
Career readiness is emerging as the new frontier for education. Career-ready students are prepared for success in life after high school, including postsecondary education and modern jobs and career paths. Increasingly, stakeholders are recognizing that the purpose of public education goes beyond test scores or graduation rates—success in school—to include building the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (global competencies) students actually need to succeed in adult life—success after school. A high school diploma, in this view, should certify readiness for post-graduation jobs and learning experiences, rather than merely the completion of secondary school.12
Increased focus on career readiness is triggering a paradigm shift in education to personalized, project-based, work-based learning that helps students explore and test career pathways at all levels while learning academic subjects in “real life” contexts. This is not an “either-or” situation in which educators must choose between preparing students academically and preparing them for life beyond formal education. The latter, in fact, can serve to underscore the relevance of academic learning, increase student engagement and deepen skill development through application and personalization. Rather than ‘reinventing wheels’ independently, compelling benefits will accrue for all jurisdictions from pan-Canadian collaboration on career readiness initiatives that benefit students and employers in all regions. Proven models of personalized, project-based, real-world learning exist that can provide starting points for world-leading career readiness innovations in Canada.13
A NEW MODEL OF NATIONAL COLLABORATION
With artificial intelligence, smart machines, and robots replacing humans in predictable, repetitive tasks, the uniquely human capacity for creativity is the final frontier for humans. For Canada to win in a world increasingly driven by technology, we must become more creative, innovative, and empathetic. Upon taking office in 2015, Prime Minister and Minister of Youth Trudeau renamed Industry Canada the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development established an Innovation Agenda and made innovation a central priority for the federal government.
Creativity is the fuel of an innovative society. Human creativity is a natural, expandable, and infinitely renewable resource. Rather than fully developing this resource, we have inadvertently been caging and stifling it. Most primary students are fully engaged in school. By high school, student engagement is 40% or less. Unengaged minds are uncreative minds. Creativity is caged when students learn not to risk giving the wrong answer. Among the students whose engagement wanes most are those with high entrepreneurial potential - the future job creators.
In a very promising step toward better-supporting students to transition from school to success in the 21st-century workforce, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada adopted a Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions in July 2017. The Framework consists of 11 benchmarks for quality career education and, with its accompanying assessment tools and action planning template, it can serve to promote and guide innovations in schools across Canada.
The Transitions Canada Coalition proposes an unprecedented collaboration between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, the business community, first nations, NGOs, and others to accelerate and scale needed innovations in education from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
TRANSITIONS CANADA COALITION
A new not-for-profit organization is needed to foster collaboration among Canada’s education ecosystem partners. No existing organization is suited to do so because:
The federal government cannot lead because issues of jurisdictional control would cloud motives and outcomes.
The Council of Ministers of Education of Canada (CMEC) cannot lead because traditional educational perspectives and initiatives may overshadow and impede the ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking business and other partners can bring.
No individual province or territory can lead because this mission is beyond the scope of its mandate.
Leadership and coordination must come from a respected, proven, not-for-profit, third party. The Transitions Canada Coalition is ready and qualified to take on this role.
The mission of the Transitions Canada Coalition is to foster collaboration among education and workforce stakeholders to reimagine the way we prepare Canada's youth for success. To do this we must bridge the education-industry divide, bridge the talent gap, bridge jurisdictions, bridge geographical, cultural and religious differences, and bridge partisan divides.
The TCC has identified potential objectives for recommendations to the National Advisory Council. However, it is important to note that these objectives are not final. After the National Advisory Council is formed, it will determine the TCC’s objectives. Preliminary objectives include, but are not limited to the following:
To focus the attention of experts across Canada to identify and enhance “best practices” and conceive, develop, test, and deploy innovative new products, programs, and services to help students become career-ready and find their personal pathway to prosperity.
To engage employers (Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Business Council of Canada, Business-Higher Education Roundtable, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, sector councils, industry associations, unions, etc.) with educators to provide integrated work-based learning opportunities for all students in all educational settings and levels.
To engage provincial governments and departments of education to work together to reimagine Canada’s education system to prepare our youth for the jobs of the 21st century.
To engage diverse community agencies (Youth Service Canada, United Way, service clubs, Junior Achievement, Big Brothers Big Sisters, immigrant support groups, etc.) to support educators and employers in preparing youth for good, in-demand jobs.
To act as the K-12 component of the Future Skills Centre proposed by Finance Minister Morneau’s Economic Council. To that end, it should be affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Youth Council and the Federal Youth Employment and Skills Strategy.
To profile and help execute the CMEC’s Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions.
NATIONAL ADVISORY COUNCIL To accomplish its mission, the TCC has identified key stakeholders and organizations across Canada whose cooperation is required to bring about a paradigm shift in our education system. These stakeholder organizations include, but are not limited to:
Employment and Social Development Canada
Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Education
Provincial and Territorial Ministers of Advanced Education/Labour
Assembly of First Nations
Business Council of Canada
Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Junior Achievement Canada
Youth Employment Strategy Directorate
Prime Minister’s Youth Council
Canadian Council for Career Development
Status of Women Canada
Future Skills Centre
The TCC will form a National Advisory Council comprised of experts and representatives from key stakeholder organizations in Canada who want to have a voice in re-imagining the way we prepare students for success in the 21st-century workforce. The National Advisory Council will be the steering committee to establish and prioritize the TCC objectives and determine which other organizations and stakeholders should join the TCC.
National Advisory Council membership will be for key stakeholders initially and grow progressively over time to include most of the organizations identified above. NAC members will meet in-person at least three times a year, for the first two years and remain in contact year-round.
ANNUAL TRANSITIONS SUMMITS Through the coordinated efforts of the National Advisory Council, the TCC plans to invite NAC members and carefully chosen national and global experts in progressive and innovative education practices to participate in an annual National Transitions Summit. The purpose is to bring together stakeholders to share and agree on best practices and identify gaps to be addressed collaboratively. The target date for the inaugural Summit is Winter/Spring of 2018. The focus of the first Summit will be to explore the viability of inter-jurisdictional collaboration and to determine if consensus can be reached on initial TCC priorities.
It is anticipated that 100 or more experts will participate in the 2 to 3-day Summit. Champions of the most promising initiatives in Canada, the United States, and representatives from progressive education systems in other countries will present. Participating provincial and national organizations will present their most promising practices.
The goal of the Summit will be to identify issues and challenges that can be addressed collaboratively as opposed to independently. If one or more projects emerge with an agreement that more can be achieved together than any jurisdiction could achieve on its own, the TCC will put in place a core team of experts with previous experience with Pan-Canadian projects, and set in motion the collaborative model described in the Methodology section of this document. The coordinated assembly of experts will provide proof of concept and mitigate against the risk of investing in an ill-conceived proposal. The inaugural National Transitions Summit will be hosted by New Brunswick.
NATIONAL TRANSITIONS PORTALS Through the coordinated efforts of the National Advisory Council, the TCC plans to create a national transitions portal with agreed-upon resources, tools, practices, and guidelines. The Portal will contain the following sub-portals for key stakeholders:
Educator Portal - Career Readiness
The TCC will create a Portal for educators that will present best practices and resources identified and agreed upon by the National Advisory Council.
Employer Portal - Enhanced Employer Engagement in Education
The TCC will generate common strategies, resources, and programs to enhance employer engagement in workplace integrated learning (internships, non-traditional apprenticeships, co-op programs, job-shadowing, mentorships, plant tours, skills competitions, speakers in the classroom, etc.) with public, private and indigenous primary, secondary and postsecondary education systems across Canada. The TCC plans to build an Employer Portal to help facilitate employer involvement in education on federal, provincial, and local levels.
Community Portal - Enhanced Parent and Community Engagement in Education
The TCC will generate common strategies, resources and programs to engage parents and community organizations in a whole-community approach to preparing youth to transition from all educational and training settings and levels to workforce success. The TCC plans to build a Community Portal to help facilitate parent and community involvement in education on a local level.
SOURCE SOLUTIONS AND CREATE IMPLEMENTATION PLANS The role of the TCC is to globally source and identify viable solutions to meet the National Advisory Council’s objectives. TCC partners will be encouraged to identify genuine ‘game-changing’ initiatives suitable for TCC collaboration to enhance and scale nationally. The National Advisory Council will recommend which of these solutions the coalition will consider for project implementation. Detailed project plans and budgets will be developed by the TCC Secretariat and approved by the NAC before a project-specific funding request is brought to ESDC.
METHODOLOGY: A PROVEN PAN-CANADIAN INNOVATION MODEL
To achieve its objectives the TCC will follow a proven pan-Canadian innovation model. When a potential project is approved by the National Advisory Council a five-phase project management model is followed:
Agreement on project definition, scope, and specifications
Prototype development and approval (TCC will contract with experts to research, develop and refine approved innovations)
Concurrent pilots in all regions (sites to be selected competitively and apportioned based on population)
Revisions based on pilot evaluations (evidence-based) agreed by the National Advisory Council
National and regional launches with common tools and procedures for promotion, implementation, training, on-going support, and sharing of common success metrics (Pan-Canadian Implementation Methodology)
 In 1971, young people age 15 to 24 accounted for 19% of the total Canadian population, but, by 2011, this proportion had fallen to 13% and could drop to 11% by 2031 according to a demographic projection scenario.
 2015, Statistics Canada
 According to the LFS, 93% of women age 20 to 24 and 89% of men the same age had earned such a diploma in 2012 compared with 84% of women and 79% of men in 1990.
 According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), in 2015, Canada had 54,000 unoccupied jobs related to computer technologies and programming. This figure is projected to increase to 182,000 in 2019. By 2020, it is estimated that 1,000,000 programming jobs will potentially be vacant in North America.