Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE)

“World of Choices and Company Program”

2020 – 2022

ONFE’s Career Readiness programs help students discover career paths that were unknown to them, the skills employers are seeking, and education and training choices that can enhance their employability.

World of Choices offers students virtual group discussions with local employers. Students hear about a “day in the life” of individuals working in jobs they may not have considered as a career pathway and learn about the necessary requirements to work in local industry. Students leave informed and excited about their future; and better equipped to take the next steps to getting the jobs they want.

JA Company has inspired high school students to create an enterprise of their own. Over a four-month period, JA Company offers grade 9-12 students an experiential learning opportunity in a team environment, coached by mentors. Students gain valuable employment skills and learn about entrepreneurship as they prepare to launch and run a small enterprise. Students gain real-world skills such as leadership, critical thinking, strategic planning and conflict resolution. As a result of the pandemic, this program was transformed into a virtual model and launched in 2021. High school student entrepreneurs were able to create digital products, digital services, virtual events and even drop shipped products.

Over the lifespan of the grant, the Virtual JA Company program reached 275 students from 27 different schools. Prior to the pandemic, we typically reached only 10 – 15 schools. The virtual model was an effective way of bringing JA Company to a wider variety of schools, thus expanding our reach. Through pilots like Hillcrest Hoops, Summer Hoops & Horizon Growth, JA Company program was also able to reach a more diverse set of students (ex: BIPOC youth, at-risk youth, economically vulnerable youth) while continuing to provide meaningful opportunities and mentorship.

A few key insights from this work:

  • There’s a growing push for experiential learning programs, particularly within Skilled Trades & Tech and Entrepreneurship. There is a need and demand for career exploration activities to begin in elementary and middle school. In-person career readiness activities with mentors are appreciated by teachers and students. However, they also value having a wide range of high-quality career panelists and industry sectors to learn about, which is more easily achievable through virtual delivery.
  • Collaborative relationships and building trust relationships with other community partners and school boards are critical to ensure success.
  • Students need to be able to relate to the volunteer in some way before a connection is made and much time is spent on ensuring the career panels are as encompassing and diverse as possible. Other than the screening and vetting time with our staff, the volunteer commitment for virtual program delivery is 60 minutes compared to the half day plus travel time for in-person events that also must factor in weather conditions during winter months. Our virtual World of Choices facilitators get volunteers to share their personal career and education journeys (Ex: the good, the bad, the barriers they faced and how they overcame them).

About the Ottawa Network for Education (ONFE)

ONFE has a 30-year history of success in facilitating multi-sector collaboration, leading to the development and implementation of over forty innovative education programs. ONFE works side-by-side with educators, government, local businesses, and community leaders to meet the learning needs of every student in Ottawa.