Queen’s program hopes to solve the work-experience paradox for grads

It has long been a paradox — employers want experience in a candidate before they’ll hire, but how does a new arts or humanities graduate earn that experience before they get a job? A program at Queen’s University, preparing for its third year, seems to have found the the answer.

Alan Rottenberg, a philanthropist based in Ottawa, speaks to members of the Queen’s University and local business community who had gathered to kick off the 2020 Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program. Photo provided by the Kingston Economic Development Corporation

The Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program is looking to pair 40 soon-to-be graduates of arts and humanities programs with local employers, hoping to give them easier access to launch their career, while easing some of the risk for employers. It all started with an idea in 2017, and the program launched their 2020 project at an event on November 13, 2019.

“I was watching my kids’ friends just after graduation and saw some of them wandering around until 27 or 28 and thought ‘this can’t be right'” said Alan Rottenberg, a philanthropist based in Ottawa who was inspired by those young people to make changes. Rottenberg started this program, aiming to match students to employers as they graduated in spring, 2018.

Rottenberg brought the idea to Tom Hewitt, who volunteered alongside him on in Ottawa and is the Chief Development Officer with Queen’s University. Hewitt helped encourage the project to grow here.

“I connected Rottenberg with some people at our university, in our Business School and in our Innovation Centre”, Hewitt said, “Then we brought in the Kingston Economic Development Corporation so that we had a partner in the city. The concept itself was simply how we could help students accelerate their careers here in Kingston.”

Alan Rottenberg (in blue, center) chats with attendees at the launch event for the 2020 Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program. Photo by Tommy Vallier

The pilot year saw placements happen for eight graduates, with six continuing on to full-time employment with their apprenticeship company after program funding stopped. This year, 18 graduates are working at local employers. Not all of them are Kingston natives.

“I grew up in Burlington and came to Queen’s for my four years. Then my grandparents were asking at Christmastime what I was going to do next,” said Justin Karch, a 2018 Queen’s graduate who participated in the pilot year of the program and transitioned to full-time work with his apprenticeship employer and starting to establish his post-graduate life in Kingston. Karch found the program through a Facebook ad.

Employers are provided with a portion of their hire’s salary during their first year of employment through the program, helping to offset the costs of training and reduce the risk.

We need to instill in people that it’s the responsibility of the community to hire young people as soon as possible.

Alan Rottenberg, Philanthropist and founder of the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston program.

“It’s a really interesting process”, said Bob Jeffries, who has two recent graduates working for him at Changent.io, a customer and employee engagement company located at Innovation Park. “There’s a system of matching: Employers select their favourite students and students select their favoutite employers. It’s just excellent,” he added, noting that he’s hopeful his two hires will transition to permanent roles with the company after their apprenticeship year.

Employers who hire a recent grad on a one year contract through the program receive four months of salary funding up to $16,000.

Attendees at the launch event for the 2020 Queen’s Career Apprenticeship: Kingston Program on November 13, 2019. Photo provided by the Kingston Economic Development Corporation

Since its inception, the program has launched 28 careers in Kingston and has brought more than $1.5 million in payroll to Kingston, which is the first community to host a program like this, though other schools are taking notes and working with Rottenberg to launch similar programs in their communities.

“There’s a lot of apprenticeships in the world — it’s standard in trades, science, engineering, math — and the government is investing in these types of apprenticeships. But for arts and humanities, this is quite new,” said Donna Gillespie, CEO of Kingston Economic Development Corporation of the program. “We all had our first job. We all had mentors and learned as we went,” she added, speaking to the importance of on-the-job learning through a program like this.

“Perhaps there’s someone recruiting for a role and maybe it doesn’t need to be three or five years of experience. Maybe with four months paid, on the job training, they could hire the right person without the experience, but with ambition and the gung-ho and the skills, especially the soft skills like people skills, which are so important,” Gillespie replied when asked about potential employers considering participation in the program.

Asked about what he would share with students learning about this program as they work through their final year at Queen’s Karch said “Kingston has a lot to offer — it’s really a lovely city and I would caution graduates about going right back to their parents places in Toronto or elsewhere. This program is really built for your success from start to finish. I thought it was too good to be true and thought ‘what’s the catch?’ But there isn’t one. I stuck around and now I’ve got a career in Kingston and I love it here.”

Employers wanting to participate in the program can reach out to Nour Mazloum with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation for more information. Graduating Queen’s students in arts and humanities can learn more at the QCAK website.

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