Apprenticeship program offers jump start to recent grads, local businesses

The Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program matches recent Queen’s Arts & Sciences graduates with local companies for a one-year apprenticeship. From left to right: AJ Keilty, owner of participating business Varsity Properties, Jacey Carnegie, graduate placed with Varsity Properties through the program, Alan Rottenberg, founder of the program, and Donna Gillespie, CEO of the Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

It’s arguably one of the most challenging times in a person’s life, and a time that can crucial to the trajectory of their career: those first few years following post-secondary education.

It’s a time when many recent graduates find themselves in limbo, floating in that place where potential employers are only awarding jobs to those with three years+ experience. It’s a time when many young, energetic people are entering the workforce with excitement and gusto… only to find so many opportunities closed off to them due to lack of experience. And without the ability to enter their chosen career path, so many young graduates find themselves paralyzed by this issue, unable to get over the hump between ‘recently graduated’ and ‘career ready’ – a place where many fall into jobs, but not their ‘careers.’

It’s an issue Alan Rottenberg wanted to address. Having watched his two sons graduate from arts programs at universities, and the ensuing struggles his sons and their friends all faced, Rottenberg felt there must be something that could help bridge the gap between graduation and employment.

I hate when resources are wasted, people are wasted, and we’re wasting people when we say ‘Sorry, you have to have three years’ experience,’” Rottenberg expressed.

“And I don’t believe you need three years’ experience all the time! I think there are great young people who, all you need to do is give them an opportunity to work, and give them what an apprenticeship is – create awareness, job training, and a career path that they can follow – to give them the possibility to perform.”

Rottenberg, who spent his career in the marketing sector for high-tech software companies, came up with an idea to address the issue: create an apprenticeship program that works with an arts and sciences program at a post-secondary institution, pairing recent graduates with local companies. Rottenberg decided he would pledge to cover the graduates’ wages for the first four months of the apprenticeship, providing both the graduate and the company in each pairing agree to a one-year work placement. Following the first four months of the apprenticeship, the employer takes over paying the graduate, and, if all is successful, hopefully keeps the graduate on following the apprenticeship.

Yes, Rottenberg had the idea. He just didn’t know where would be best suited to launch his project… and Kingston can thank Tom Hewitt for bringing up the idea of launching it here.

Hewitt, who is chief development officer for Queen’s University, found out about Rottenberg’s idea when they were both sitting on the board for the Heart Institute Foundation at the University of Ottawa. Hewitt left Ottawa to work at Queen’s (a bit of a homecoming for the Queen’s grad), and invited Rottenberg, an Ottawa native, to come to Kingston to discuss the idea.

A number of those with Queen’s, including Dr. Barbara Crow, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, felt the idea would be well-suited for Queen’s and Kingston – after all, for decades Kingstonians, from business owners to city councillors alike, have talked about the need to keep graduates in Kingston following their studies. The group reached out to the City of Kingston and Kingston Economic Development Corporation, and, will all parties agreeing the project would work well here, they launched a pilot project last year.

By January of this year, the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program was underway, pairing 10 recent graduates from Queen’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences with 10 local businesses looking to fill some positions. And the results were “pretty great,” Rottenberg said.

“All the students were happy, all of the employers were happy,” he said, noting that the only negative of the pilot project came when one of the employers had to pull out due to financial difficulties. But the graduates that were placed there both found positions right away, Rottenberg noted.

“One immediately got another job with another company, and she said that without having had the [first] job opportunity, she probably wouldn’t have got the [second] job. She said she’s a much better interviewer now, she had more experience in applying for jobs and the interview experience, and she had more work experience,” he said.

“The other eight are all fully employed! This just typifies what’s exciting about it: All of these people are these very fabulous young people, full of energy, really capable, and all they needed was someone to go ‘Yeah! Come on board,’ and they’re great!”

The graduates were placed with a variety of different local companies, including Meta Innovations Technologies, Benefits by Design, Viva Productions, and Varsity Properties. At the latter, Jacey Carnegie, a recent Queen’s graduate in psychology, found herself hired on at the end of her apprenticeship.

“I started here the first week of May. Classes had ended at the end of April and then they have that window of time where you still haven’t graduated yet, so I started here the first of May and graduated end of May,” Carnegie said of her apprenticeship through the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program.

“It was super cool to have a job and be actively working before I even graduated. It’s crazy!” she continued noting that she never really considered a job in a business setting.

“But it’s been really cool. It’s been this like crazy growth curve of just not even knowing that I’m capable of doing these things, and then just trying them anyway. It’s been great! I’ve learned so much, and I enjoy the work every day.”

Now, the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program is launching in full. On Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, Rottenberg will join representatives from Queen’s and Kingston Economic Development for an information session, where graduates and companies involved in the pilot project will speak about their experiences. The event will mark the beginning of the first year of the full program, which will pair 35 graduates and local companies together.

“You gotta go big!” Rottenberg said with a laugh of the increase from 10 to 35 apprenticeships.

“The people that I met at Queen’s are very, very engaged and committed to the students and their future. And the City of Kingston is dynamic and Mayor Paterson and Donna Gillespie with KEDCO really have a strong drive for development of the city. For that, you need companies and you need resources to go into the companies, otherwise companies say ‘We’d like to move here but you have no people for us to hire.’ So it’s really the strength of the community that Kingston is and the culture that is Queen’s.

And from Carnegie’s position where she’s been hired on at a job she enjoys less than a year after graduating, she has one piece of advice for Arts and Sciences students who might consider applying for the apprenticeship program:

“Just do it. I know that’s a Nike slogan, but it’s not going to hurt you to apply and see what happens. If you get a job, then great, and if you don’t then at least you applied and got some experience,” she said.

“I know this apprenticeship program definitely changed my life. It’s been amazing.”

The launch and information session about the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 27 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Grandview Room of the Delta Hotel (1 Johnson Street). Interested employers are encouraged to contact Dajana Turkovic, workforce development officer for the Kingston Economic Development Corporation. Jobs will be posted on the Queen’s University Job Board starting now through to December 15. The interview process will take place in early 2019 with successful candidates starting their positions after classes end in May.

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