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Collaboration Key to Strengthening the Workforce

The EvoLLLution | Collaboration Key to Strengthening the Workforce
Collaboration is key to solving the twin problems of unemployment and underemployment of young adults.

The following interview is with Mark Patterson, director of research partnerships at Ryerson University and executive director at Magnet. Magnet was created by Ryerson and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to address unemployment and underemployment issues by connecting job-seekers with employers. Their concept has blossomed into a hub for a wide range of labor market stakeholders to collaborate and strengthen the labor market in Ontario. They’re highlighting the “it takes a village” approach to economic development, and in this interview Patterson expands on that and explains how he sees Magnet growing in future.

1. When we’re talking about creating a system that reduces the gap between higher ed and the workforce, why is collaboration between government bodies, higher ed institutions and non-profits critical?

It does take community to address some of our larger social challenges, youth unemployment, unemployment and immigrant employment in particular. It’s something that needs to be looked at by all the different parties in our society.

When you look across the province of Ontario, there are literally thousands of organizations that are involved in helping address youth unemployment, underemployment, helping youth transition, and they’re all doing amazing work and really impacting lives in the space that they work in. One of the biggest challenges that they’ve had is that they’re all siloed.

Having a tool that allows people to work together and get the synergies and efficiencies from collaboration is really important. When you think about how all these organizations are funded federally, provincially or municipally and just being able to accelerate or work together to improve the impact and really measuring that impact together is a really important thing.

2. Magnet has certainly been successful in creating this multi-body collaboration; what were some of the major hurdles involved with getting everyone on the same page?

We were very lucky. It’s very diverse groups that are getting involved in Magnet. We have everything from social service agencies, not for profits, professional associations, business groups, postsecondary institutions and so on, and everybody saw something in it for themselves. [We thought about that] from the start. We know that many of our stakeholders have different ideas on the tactics that are needed to address this issue. We aren’t positioning Magnet; we’re just trying to enable organizations to do the work that they do more effectively and really create a collaborative economy and a collaborative group that is actually working together to address the issue.

We really are in a time where we actually have powerful technologies that are enabling collaboration. [We needed to build] something in a way that everybody saw something in it for themselves. It wasn’t necessarily a major hurdle but it was certainly something we needed to take [into consideration.]

3. How do you see Magnet evolving in the coming years?

As you know, we started in Ontario. This actually started at Ryerson University; it was a technology that was developed in our Digital Media Zone. The University saw a lot of potential and it was having a lot of impact on helping our students. The next natural step was to share it with other postsecondary institutions in the province, but we certainly see it growing beyond that. We have many diverse partners coming to the projects, all different kinds of groups in the province of Ontario. Right now we are being asked to launch it outside of Ontario and we will be announcing some of that over the next few weeks and months. We’ve had a lot of interest around the world. It’s an idea that there’s need for innovation and new ways of looking at this problem and enabling collaboration. If we can work together, we will certainly grow but it will really evolve as we learn.

4. What’s it going to take to keep Magnet on the positive trajectory it has forged since launch?

What it’s really going to take is everybody rallying around the project and seeing the shared division, the potential impact when this gets to scale that it could have on addressing these issues of youth unemployment, underemployment, new immigrant employment and really putting their shoulder behind this project with us. It’s like any startup. It really needs help. Having all these different stakeholders participate in its growth with a common shared vision is what it’s going to take. We’re inviting all our current partners and any new partners who want to learn more about the project to get involved.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add about the growth of similar projects to yours that are very collaborative and bring in different levels of stakeholders and the importance of those kinds of organizations to closing the skills gap between folks without a higher ed credential, folks with a higher ed credential, and the workforce?

There are a lot of organizations doing amazing work. When you look at the theory of giant networks and how each node that’s added to a giant network actually increases the power of the overall network by more than its individual self, it’s a really exciting era that we’re entering in where collaborative models and collaborative economies [function.]

Specifically for the skills gap, we know that the only way we’re going to solve these issues is by working together. We just simply can’t afford this lost efficiency that’s happening right now. In the province of Ontario, we have 45 postsecondary institutions, that are all siloed, that all have job boards, but they’re all siloed. So when an employer wants to find people across multiple institutions, it takes a long time or a big investment. We need to make it easier for employers to connect to the talent.

Right now I don’t believe that there’s necessarily a skills gap, but what we certainly do have is a huge skills mismatch and the only way we’re going to solve that is by working together. We’ve had these lines of separation around groups and we set up these arbitrary boundaries but now technology is getting to the point where it’s actually enabling us to break down some of these arbitrary boundaries that were only there because we needed to put a circle around an area of responsibility. It’s really exciting that technology is going to be enabling collaboration across these different [areas]. That just means that all of the different groups that have a common shared vision and desire to address some of these social issues can actually be empowered to do their job everyday and yet still be in a network that’s actually collaborating together towards a common shared purpose.

This interview has been edited for length.

Learn more about Magnet by visiting their website at