“Over the years, learning a great deal of best practices, connecting with amazing programs and colleagues in the sector, and taking all these back to my work and applying them to improve my work is what keeps me going. Thanks, #Futures2021!”- Chelsie Rapsch, Futures attendee.


In honour of the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th, Executive Director of First Work, Akosua Alagaratnam, began the Opening Ceremony with thoughtful reflection of the work we must champion to ensure an inclusive, diverse workforce landscape in Canada. Akosua highlighted the Cultural Sensitivity Training offered at Futures this year, reminding attendees that our journey to build back better must "also be a space that empowers and makes individuals feel like they belong."  

Following the land acknowledgement and reflection, First Work Board President Carolyn Warkentin gave remarks on the collective passion for an “innovative and inclusive economy” which this network holds. Keeping that notion salient, the Ceremony followed with a video of First Work members reflections on their inspiration as this sector weathers uncharted territory.

Futures sessions on Day 1 were held on supporting employers’ adoption of wider talent pools, featuring the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s DiscoverAbility initiative on a Roadmap to Hiring People with A Disability and The Career Foundation’s Kerry Kettle on Championing an Inclusive Employer Engagement Strategy. 

Sessions also included a focus on Ontario’s Employment Services transformation, with special presentation on the Future of Employment Ontario with ADM David Carter-Whitney. First Work’s own Anushka Shajahan and Sophia Koukoulas delivered an overview of transformation, anchored on First Work’s Early Insights Report, providing recommendations to providers in attendance on trainings and sessions to attend during Futures to best prepare for the new model of service delivery.

“First of 4 wonderful days of learning and fun. This is my 3rd Futures conference (1 in person and 2 now virtually!) In person was so much fun. I cannot wait for the next 3 days. You are missing out if you have never participated.” - Lesley Patry Kerford, Futures attendee

Futures day two featured an overview session on the Common Assessment tool with the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Assistant Deputy Minister, Employment and Training Division, Cordelia Abankwa. She said, "I believe that the key to inclusive recovery and transformed employment services is going to rely on collaboration, mutual support and also partnerships, and I'd like to thank you for your partnership." The morning of day two also saw sessions on Digital Transformation with Jake Hirsch Allen of LinkedIn and First Work’s Manager, Projects and Strategic Initiatives, Derrick An. Additional sessions included an in-depth look at mergers and amalgamations with Fist Work’s President Carolyn Warkentin and more.

Day Two also included sessions on innovative practices for programming, with First Work and Purpose Co’s Communities of Practice members. This session gave CoP participants the opportunity to share their solutions for enhancing Ontario’s EO programs including Second Career, Youth Job Connection (YJC), and the Canada Ontario Job Grant (COGJ). Bell Brown Molnar and Delicate Consulting Inc delivered an in-depth analysis of program evaluation during a session titled “Smoke and Mirrors,” and Wendy Quan, founder of the Calm Monkey provided us a look into using mindfulness for innovative change management. Finally, Kimberly Swartz of Taproot Foundation took Futures attendees on a deep-dive into the importance of social media for non-profits.


The second week of Futures kicked off with a keynote from Ronald Painter from the National Association of Workforce Boards USA for a North American perspective on recovery. He spoke to attendees about the changing nature of work but also the changing habits of people, as pandemic has accelerated our digital uptake. This is evident in the rise in rates of "searches for 'services near me'...people are looking for a physical location and a virtual presence." He also reminded delegates to look at the causes of labour disruption as many workers have realized how crazy their work lives were. As we start to emerge from pandemic and businesses ask "where is the worker," Ronald reminded attendees that folks are taking the 'best' of the jobs they had and leaving others.

“What a great Conference so far. Lots of challenging information being shared in terms of the changes to come. I love how resilience and mindfulness are playing a factor here as change is one of the hardest for people to accept. How can we expect our clients to accept change if we are not willing or unable. A lot of self-reflection going on this year for sure!” - Mary Ann Montagano, Futures attendee

“What a great Conference so far. Lots of challenging information being shared in terms of the changes to come. I love how resilience and mindfulness are playing a factor here as change is one of the hardest for people to accept. How can we expect our clients to accept change if we are not willing or unable. A lot of self-reflection going on this year for sure!” - Mary Ann Montagano, Futures attendee

Keeping innovation at the forefront, sessions also included Designing for Change for digitizing career development with a focus on LinkedIn, from Herleen Arora and Seema Taneja. Herleen and Seema are supporting the development of First Work's newly launched, 3-part virtual learning series: Designing for Change.

Trauma-informed approaches are also more important than ever with this changing client profile and so our friends at Purpose Co hosted a session on Using the Resilience Scale in Employment Services.

Motivational Interviewing has been identified as one of the training needs for staff in anticipation of Ontario's Employment Services Transformation. Day 3 included Part 1 of Balancing the Teeter-Totter: An Introduction to Motivational Interviewing. Speaker Dale Kuehl lead participants in an interactive session which saw participants apply the concepts in practice and reflect on integrating these concepts into programming in small group discussions.

The fourth and final half day of Futures 2021 opened with a special keynote presentation from sponsor RBC's Gopal Bansal on the Power of Lived Experience. During his opening remarks, he addressed the impact his teachers had on his life saying, “as someone who grew up in tougher neighbourhoods, [recalling the few people – like teachers] who fundamentally changed my view of the world.” Because his network was small without professional connections, he says, “those opportunities were significant.”

Cultivate 4 Rs

RBC’s ongoing commitment to anti-racism is clear in their ongoing contribution to train the workforce development sector on best approaches to champion anti-oppression. Following Futures’20 training on Developing an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppression Approach in Our Sector, RBC sponsored a cultural sensitivity training by Victoria Herrera on supporting Indigenous youth in education and employment. Victoria spoke on the history and lasting effects of residential schools on the Indigenous community, and ways to implement the “Four R’s Framework” into employment and training programming for Indigenous youth. "This is a framework that was created for education, but it can be applied anywhere,” Victoria Herrera said on the four R’s, which “are: Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity & Responsibility.”. Thanks to RBC’s continued support, we are grateful to provide a space for our network to learn how to be better allies in anti-oppression.

The final day of Futures continued with multi-national perspectives on the changing labour market with presentations from the OECD on Preparing Youth for a Changing Labour Market and Lessons Learned from BC's Employment Services Transformation.

“What an amazing Conference full of information and collaboration. The First Work staff and their presenting/sponsoring counterparts have gone out of their way to ensure we are all connected, have our questions answered and that we as participants are not only engaging, but continuously entertained with the Gamification challenges and Photo Booth. I am looking forward to using what I have learned. Thanks for everything!” - Michelle Bissett, Futures attendee


Our ongoing appreciation and thanks to sponsors RBC Future Launch, WCG, and Future Skills Centre for making Futures 2021 the inclusivity-focused conference needed in this recovery. Day two’s keynote session with Pedro Barata was proudly sponsored by Future Skills Centre. Dale Kuehl’s two-part session was sponsored by our friends at WCG Services. Lastly, our partners at RBC Future Launch kindly sponsored day four’s keynote session with Gopal Bansal, a session on Intersectional Allyship in the workplace, as well as Victoria Herrera’s session on Cultivating the 4 R’s to Support Indigenous Youth in Employment and Training.

Special thank you to our friends at APMA, HTA Local 75 and LinkedIn for your contributions to Futures and to our sector at large. We truly value your partnership and ongoing commitment to an inclusive workforce in Canada.