The new diversity and inclusion manager at Skills Ontario says while the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives, it has also created opportunities to engage with more students from across the province in activities promoting careers in the skilled trades and technology.
“There are definitely a lot of negatives that came out of the pandemic, but it has brought the organization together as a whole even more than what we were before,” Ashley Pszeniczny told the Daily Commercial News. “It’s allowed us to be more inclusive and include everybody across the province.”
As a result of the pandemic, Skills Ontario adapted its outreach approach by moving to remote learning, increasing its use of digital technology and replacing in-person competitions and conferences with virtual events, online webinars and social media challenges. The First Nation, Metis and Inuit Student Conference and the Young Women’s Conference were presented virtually this year. Trades and tech days and hands-on workshops were also being offered online.
“It’s really been an eye opener,” said Pszeniczny. “We can target people from across the province that might not have been able to travel before in the past to southern Ontario to attend the event. We even had people attending from across the world.”
“Moving forward, and when we do go back to in person, it’s nice to know that we can still offer such events virtually to really open up those events and opportunities to youth that might not be able to travel.”
Pszeniczny is a member of the Garden River First Nation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and is also a certified teacher. She has worked in Skills Ontario’s First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Initiatives program for the past eight years. She started out as a liaison and eventually moved to manager.
In her new role, which she started in September, she hopes to foster more diversity and inclusion throughout the organization and promote careers in the skilled trades and technology fields to more underrepresented people.
“We’ve been delivering special education for young women, which is a diverse group going into the skilled trades as well as Indigenous youth for nearly a decade now, but we’re really looking forward to continuing to grow and work with communities across Ontario to ensure that we are providing equal opportunities for all youth across the province and making sure our skilled workforce is as diverse as it could be.”
Skills Ontario is focusing on expanding its diversity and inclusion program.
“Right now our main concentration is providing sensitivity training and training within our organization so that all of our staff and our team can grow as a whole,” said Pszeniczny. “In the near future we’re hoping to offer different programs and opportunities where we can expand on that young women’s and First Nations’ program that we have to target different races, ethnicities, religions, newcomers to Canada.”
Ian Howcroft, CEO of Skills Ontario, said Pszeniczny is a good candidate for the role.
“We wanted to make sure the organization both internally and externally was being as inclusive as possible,” he explained. “We have long recognized diversity but this is something we are doing to move to the next level.”
Although switching to remote and virtual offerings has been successful and has many benefits, he is looking forward to going back to providing the experiential learning opportunities that can only be offered in person.
“When we do go back to in person, there is going to be an important role to have complimentary remote delivery of our programs,” said Howcroft. “We will continue to have a remote and virtual presence long after we go back to the classroom and offer in person events because there are certain parts of the province that are still going to be remote and it would limit the participation if it had to be in person.”
With a large portion of the skilled trades workforce getting ready to retire in the next few years, workers will be needed to fill those roles, Howcroft added.
“We need to make sure we are one offering them information about career paths to help fill the pipeline that employers are going to be looking for, but also to make sure they have an opportunity to explore all career paths that they might be interested in,” said Howcroft.
“We are trying to make sure that people have a realistic understanding of what these career paths can lead to. They pay well, they are exciting careers and it might not be for everyone but there are probably many people out there who are not pursuing a career because they are not aware of the opportunities.”
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