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FutureForce Halton: From post-it notes to a Summit, the future is now...

The following appeared in the September 2006 issue of Transitions magazine, a publication of JobSearchTools.net

It’s June 16, 2006, and the Burlington Convention Centre is buzzing with people from all walks of life, all with workforce development on their mind. Community members from the Halton municipalities of Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville (and some from beyond) are taking stock of all their concerns about the workforce, including the challenges, opportunities and unknowns facing their business or organization.

When they have an idea, they write it down quickly, summarizing it on a single piece of paper – the ubiquitous post-it note – that is quickly picked up by one of the Halton Industry Education Council (HIEC) staff members in attendance, and placed, for all to see, on one of the easels in the corners of the room.

It’s an odd scene, and, at the outset, some of the attendees – each using different coloured notes, related to their sector -- found the task daunting. “It’s not an easy thing initially,” explains Gene Luczkiw, a long-time expert on enterprise education, entrepreneurship and workforce development around the world, and most recently a consultant for FutureForce Halton, the government-funded initiative led by HIEC that is the driving force behind today’s activities.

Luczkiw, however, believes the post-it note concept is essential to the heart of the FutureForce Halton message.

“As a community, we need to reflect upon our present reality in order to envision the future reality of work,” he explains. Sure, each person in attendance could write page after page on their specific concerns, relating each to their specific workplace, whether it be business, education or government, but what Luczkiw is proposing is far more valuable. By forcing each person to boil down their issues to short sentences and phrases, it’s his hope that we’ll begin to be able to see that which unites as a community in Halton.

Planting the seeds for FutureForce Halton

FutureForce Halton began as a response to community concerns in Halton. Like a lot of the so-called ‘bedroom’ communities, Halton – the 905 stretch between Hamilton and Toronto – has found itself dealing with a bit of a workforce identity crisis. Shifting demographics and rapid growth have caused a lot of businesses and organizations in the area to wonder how they’ll be able to deal with the challenges they’re facing.

Located in Burlington, ON and soon to mark its 17th year of operation, HIEC did not work to create FutureForce Halton because it believes it has all the answers. Rather, HIEC, uniquely positioned thanks to long history of programs that foster partnerships between business, industry, education and government, built FutureForce in the hopes that similar partnerships could create opportunities for solutions when it comes to workforce development issues.

With a foundation in the partnership ideal, the first steps were obvious. Reaching out to the community in the form of one-to-one interviews with key stakeholders from across the region, the initiative took shape very quickly. The next step was community consultation sessions, like with the post-it notes, where small, medium and large business got together with education and government to have their say. While each person had a unique perspective, their concerns were shared across the board.

While a large manufacturing company may seem to have little in common with a small print & design shop, and the classroom of a high school teacher might seen forever removed from the mayor’s desk, key concerns like job recruitment, job retention and professional development are universal.

Common Solutions to Shared Issues

Back at the Burlington Convention Centre, the post-it notes are hitting the board fast and furious. Paper piles up beside attendees before the HIEC staff has a chance to take them away. The easel boards are a sea of colour as everyone’s represented: green for business, yellow for education, pink for professionals, blue for government, and more.

And, examining the results, the same words pop out: innovation, loyalty, choice, opportunity, work-life, continuum of learning, retention, recruitment, partnerships. They spread across the board, attached to all the colours, representing Halton as a whole.

It’s not an altogether surprising feat, but it is further confirmation of something those involved with FutureForce Halton have been emphasizing from the beginning. Workforce challenges extend beyond small business, beyond industry and government, beyond Halton, Ontario, and even Canada. They are global. They are shared.

“As a community we need to discover the emerging global realities and determine how we can co-create our futures together,” says Luczkiw.

Branching out

FutureForce Halton’s community outreach has so far been limited to one-on-one meetings and small focus group style get-togethers, but all that will change on September 27, when FutureForce Halton presents the 2006 FutureForce Summit.

Held once again at the Burlington Convention Centre, this all-day gathering of community stakeholders will play host to four renowned experts on workforce development.

Dr. Edward E. Gordon is booked to talk about the international scope of workforce development issues. Gordon is the author of The 2010 Metldown: Solving the Impending Jobs Crisis, and an internationally renowned writer, speaker, historian and educator. Phil Jarvis, Vice President and Co-founder of the National Work/Life Centre, will speak on a more Canadian perspective, detailing his unique Pipeline program that works to match local talent to local opportunity in communities.

Rosemary Amelia Venne is an Associate Professor at the University of Sasketchawan, and a frequent collaborator with Boom, Bust and Echo author David Foot. She will be speak on demography as it relates to workforce development, examining how the next workforce generation will differ from current conditions.

Lastly, there’s Gene Luczkiw, speaking again on the local perspective on matters and concerns right here in Halton.

Together they’ll bring to attendees a snapshot of not only what the local workforce situation looks like, but also contextualize the Halton region in the global marketplace. By building understanding of where Halton currently is, strategies can be developed that will put local businesses and organizations back in control of their social and economic futures.

Cultivating Success

As of now, the only real certainty about the future of recruiting, human resources, workforce development and even the economy is that things have changed, will change and are changing.

As Luczkiw explains, “The workplace of the future will be different from the present. It will not only deal with knowledge and skills. It will require self-motivated people who can adapt their knowledge and skills to the needs of the workplace.”

For many companies, particularly small companies, staying informed will be the most important step. Over the next year, FutureForce Halton is committed to broadening the lines of communication between business, industry, education and government.

Futureforcehalton.ca exists as a portal for all workforce development concerns in Halton. It will also be the launching pad for quarterly newsletters that will answer workforce-related questions from all comers.

One of the biggest components of the coming year will be the FutureForce survey, distributed for the first time at the FutureForce Summit. The survey will be available both offline and online, with the results marking the end of the first phase of FutureForce Halton’s community outreach. The survey will be followed with a published report on the workforce conditions in each of the Halton municipalities.

This all sounds like a lot for one organization to handle, but with the benefit of working with their strong community partners, HIEC is committed to producing positive outcomes. Like with the community consultation session with the post-it notes, where what seems like a mish-mash of colours, ideas and attitudes actually turns out to contain common themes and ideas, FutureForce Halton is about finding that which unites us – the issues, challenges and opportunities – and managing them together.

For more on futureforcehalton and to register for the 2006 FutureForce Summit, please visit www.futureforcehalton.ca.

- Matt Elliott