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Learning adventures: The school-to-work transition

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Charlie Coffey
Executive Vice-President
Government & Community Affairs
RBC Financial Group
The Learning Partnership AGM
Delta Chelsea Hotel
Toronto, Ontario
Thursday, June 6, 2002

Thank you for the warm introduction Peter…

I've been looking forward to joining you tonight for several reasons, in part because the development of my remarks, "The School-to-Work Transition" has coincided with recent family transitions. We're all affected by transitions in one-way or another, whether they're our own and even when they're not. Transitions start early on and continue throughout our lives and careers. Children make the transition from home to school. Young adults make the transition from school to work…and everyone is impacted by transitions that reflect turning points and milestones in life.

Last Friday, my oldest son Andrew graduated from Queen's University. He originally didn't want to go to his convocation, but with some prodding, we found ourselves in Kingston. It was a proud moment for both Andrew and our family…his grandparents were especially thrilled, as they made the trip from England to attend. The talk of the weekend revolved around Andrew's plans and not surprisingly there was some animated discussion about "what next". From working and traveling across the country/abroad for the next year, to pursuing his Masters down the road, we know that one choice at a time is a path well taken. And although the proverbial, "it's important to make a good living" may cause some family fireworks every now and then, we also know that Andrew's school-to-work transition will take various twists and turns - and that's OK.

If this isn't enough, my daughter Catherine graduates from Pickering College next week. She's decided to work in Toronto for the summer and then move to London and Western University in the fall. Another transition in the family…sometimes it's about moving on, sometimes it's about letting go and sometimes it's about preparing for the future, but every time it's about managing change. I'm sure some of you are thinking about your own transition stories right now and would agree that they're more like a journey, rather than an event. Whether it's a life cycle or work cycle transition, it's bound to be a learning adventure, as I'm sure Andrew would say.

For many years, people here today (and countless others) have made an important and collective contribution to providing young people with school-to-work support. We've done it in the only way to maximize results: by creating strong partnerships among schools, businesses, government, labour organizations and communities - by adopting a holistic approach.

As I look around the room, let's thank the educators/administrators for the time and effort they've invested to integrate an academic and career/work experience curriculum. Let's also thank the business and labour leaders who continue to recognize that schools can't do it alone - that we have a responsibility, especially as benefactors, to actively participate in school-to-work transition programs and activities. And let's thank our government partners for helping to lead the way.

Let's thank our communities too…they deserve special recognition for embracing rather than rejecting change. Let's thank The Learning Partnership (TLP) team for "giving students some dynamic opportunities to enrich their education". And finally, let's thank the students who demonstrate time and time again that our investment pays huge dividends.

From parents, teachers and volunteers, to executives, board members and champions of youth, your readiness to reach beyond the parameters of the norm - the familiar and comfortable - makes a tremendous and positive difference to the futures of thousands of young people. To Laura Elliott, Durham District School Board, Donna Cansfield, Toronto District School Board, Maureen McCullough, Yorkview Public School, Michael Frankfort, Ventura Park Public School, Marine Perran, Ministry of Education and Training, Greg McCamus, Sprint Canada, Joanne Papari, Biochem Environmental Solutions, Kim Galvez, Galvez Associates, David McCordic, McMillan Binch, James Levins, Imperial Oil Limited, Doug MacPherson, Canadian Steel Trade and Employment Congress, Lu Ann Hill-MacDonald, Aboriginal Institutes Consortium, Madhu Verma, New Brunswick Women's Intercultural Network, Morrey Ewing, The Change Alliance, Don McCreesh, Celestica Inc. and Courtney Pratt, Toronto Hydro (if only there was time to name all of you), special thanks for your interest and for what I often refer to as leadership in action.

In addition to saying thank you, I want to challenge everyone to continue playing a leadership role by encouraging other educators, other business colleagues/associates and other community directors and administrators to do what many of you are doing. Sharing best practices, inviting individuals to workplaces or schools and connecting decision-makers/influencers to students so that they hear directly about the success of school-to-work transition programs, are just a handful of ideas. RBC Financial Group supports "school-to-work" initiatives in Toronto and across the country because the link between education and economic prosperity is simply too significant to ignore.

My colleagues have gathered feedback from students and parents (employees) who have participated in school-to-work programs that RBC supports via The Learning Partnership. Here's a sampling of what they have to say about their involvement in Take Our Kids to Work (TOKW).

  • Students: "I have a much better understanding of what my host does, what the workplace is like and what people do at work." "I finally realize that you need to take math in high school if you want to have a successful job."
  • Parents: "It was a great experience telling my daughter and two other guests what I do and what the organization is all about. The kids I hosted asked questions such as: Why did you choose this job? What do you like about it? If there's one thing you could change, what would it be?"

When students visit RBC for Career Days or for TOKW, our staff has a better idea of what to expect and how to relate to young people because they've spent time in schools via the Building Collaborative Learning Cultures program, or they've shared their TLP experiences with colleagues. Here are a couple of employee comments:

  • "I benefited personally/professionally by building and applying my skills as a business change agent/facilitator in a school environment. This personal development has enabled me to be more effective in my role within RBC Learning Services. We collaborated on change readiness projects during the year and this led to a stronger team/communication environment within the school group." To know that this work ultimately impacts students is an incredible
  • "I partnered with two school teams, one of which launched a new school in Peel - Rick Hansen Secondary School - with a strong focus on technology and an integrated learning culture. Over the years, many RBCers have volunteered as business partners - we assist with planning, team vision, on-boarding of new staff/leadership group, assessment and prioritizing of change projects. I also mentored other business partners for two years - sharing ideas, tools, stories, by supporting and networking." What we bring back to our jobs and RBC is immeasurable.

And there's more…the Turning Points essay contest for students not only revolves around solid written communication skills and the importance of values, it's a fun, learning project for members of our team. When assessing various student essays, they more clearly see why and how one of RBC's corporate values, i.e., "diversity for growth/innovation" can make a significant difference.

As one staff member says, "I was involved in the design of Turning Points operating in GTA. The program allows young people to focus on role models/events that have helped shaped their lives and to better understand the impact of mentors." Turning Points encourages students to celebrate their differences and think about their futures.

I take great pleasure in mentioning that this fall, RBC Royal Bank will participate in a Passport to Prosperity pilot. From Take our Kids to Work in grade 9, and work experience or job shadowing the next year, to co-op/summer placements and full-time/part-time employment after graduation, this three-four year school-to-work program enables us to build relationships with various students. On May 28th in Toronto, and as part of the Provincial Partnership Council's Passport to Prosperity campaign, it was gratifying to see a number of business and community leaders challenging other organizations to offer workplace experience. The Employer Challenge campaign will hopefully translate into workplace opportunities for the more than 700,000 Ontario students in grades 9-12.

RBC's commitment to the school-to-work transition also involves our After-School Grants program, the "earn and learn" Aboriginal Stay in School Program, the "no experience, no job…no job, no experience" Career Edge partnership, a forty-five year association with Junior Achievement programs and an Education Advisory Panel whose expertise helps us concentrate on the right initiatives that keep kids in school and prepare them for the workplace. This panel includes TLP board member Michael Fullan and former President, Gordon Cressy. I want to add that together with Career Edge, the Canadian Bankers Association offers a pilot internship program in the GTA called Ability Edge that provides valuable on-the-job financial services work experience, as well as skills and training, to college and university graduates with disabilities.

Connecting what students learn in the classroom and how they apply this learning in the workplace makes good sense. Providing both students and educators with more opportunities to discover and experience the work environment also makes good sense. Student participation/energy in the workplace, talking to young people about their futures and nurturing positive attitudes about work, not to mention, professional development for employees, makes school-to-work programs and our total relationship with TLP a win/win scenario for RBC - and for other corporations/businesses too.

The students here today know the benefits of these school-to-work programs only too well - the displays we saw at the reception tell the story. Making informed choices about career options and studies, building relationships with prospective employers and enhancing work/life skills and future employability, are some of the marvelous possibilities that just don't carry a price tag when it comes to realizing goals and dreams.

It's been said that, "the capacity to learn is our most abundant and precious resource." Education is the foundation of Canada's economic well-being and the prerequisite to sustaining our quality of life. This makes school-to-work transition programs - programs that help bridge the gap between learning and working - that much more of a high priority.

RBC Financial Group wants to help build a sense of urgency and momentum toward learning adventures in schools and in workplaces. In order to succeed, we need more help, more participation and more players. We need our partners in business and we also need parents, governments, communities and the media to join the crusade of promoting school-to-work learning.

We also need to focus on aboriginal children. As Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Secretary of State (Children and Youth) said at a Native Women's Youth Board Territorial Youth Conference: "the aboriginal population is the fastest growing segment of Canada's workforce. More than half of this population is under 25. About 400,000 aboriginal young people are poised to enter the job market over the next 20 years. Promising job opportunities and potential careers will help aboriginal children make the transition from school to work."

In order for learning to become a way of life, increasing educational opportunities must become the shared goals of stakeholders - from students and teachers, to parents and grandparents, to business people and volunteers. As a father and businessman, I'm strongly convinced that our children deserve nothing less. And while my children experience the school-to-work adventure, I also want to be there to help guide them along the way…

Again, I congratulate everybody on the progress we're making. Special thanks to Peter McInenly, Veronica Lacey (who will receive an honourary degree from Brock University on June 10th for her distinguished contribution to education in Canada and especially Ontario), Lori Cranson and Madelyn Reynolds for their support. The RBC team, especially Kirby Gavelin, who serves on the TLP board, Jackie Tuffin, who's here this evening, George Raptis, who got involved because of Madelyn's encouragement and came out tonight, along with colleagues Don Ekstrom, member of the TLP program committee, Shelley Lockhart, Lori Mistry, Christine Suski, Natasha Kassim and many volunteers that support TLP/other education initiatives - shares in the pride.

We look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead - to experiencing more learning adventures! And remember my challenge!

Thank you.


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