Innovation Projects

A key function of the Future Skills Centre is to work with stakeholders across the country to develop, test, and evaluate innovative approaches to skills development. 

The Centre invests in action-based research through community-based projects which test innovative approaches for helping diverse Canadians gain the skills they need to adapt and succeed in the workforce. All projects will be rigorously evaluated and contribute to a stronger evidence base, generating actionable information on what works, for whom, and why.

To date, we have committed over $19M over the next two years in 16 innovation projects across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. 

Support for mid-career workers innovation projects

Future Skills Centre is investing $7.65M in ten innovation projects, which were selected out of over 100 proposals submitted under our Support for Mid-Career Workers Call.

Many of these projects engage mid-career workers in specific sectors — such as oil and gas workers, truck drivers, auto workers, cashiers, and meat processing workers — that are experiencing, or at risk of, displacement. These projects will test innovative approaches to training and mid-career transitions into higher-growth sectors and job opportunities. Other projects are looking at common denominator barriers to successful career transitions and how to improve current services.

Below is an overview of the ten projects:

“EDGE UP: Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project” with Calgary Economic DevelopmentUniversity of CalgarySAIT, Bow Valley CollegeICTC Canada and Riipen

Calgary’s economy is transitioning with a restructuring of the energy sector in recent years and the digital transformation that is disrupting all industries and driving opportunities in business. The Economic Strategy Calgary in the New Economy identifies “Talent” as one of four elements required to generate sustained prosperity.

Many of the professionals displaced mid-career in the restructuring of the energy sector were engineers and geoscientists. The demand for tech workers is flourishing and companies are challenged to execute business plans due to a shortage of digitally skilled workers.

The Future Skills Centre is investing almost $1.5 million over two years in EDGE UP, a project led by Calgary Economic Development and a consortium of post-secondary and private sector partners. They will collaborate to design, implement and evaluate a digital upskilling pilot project with the goal of transitioning displaced mid-career Calgary energy sector workers to high-growth technology opportunities.

Working with employers to identify the best upskilling pathways, the program will help transition participants who will be trained for hard and soft skills and be placed in specific positions, such as; data analysts, full stack developers, and information technology project managers.

The EDGE UP pilot project will be implemented in two phases over two years:

  1. Pilot Design: Calgary Economic Development will consult with local employers to determine the most promising digital upskilling pathways; training institutions will develop the curriculum and participants will be selected.
  2. Pilot Implementation: Six cohorts of displaced professionals will start training in areas including; workplace readiness, cultural and technical skills, and work-integrated learning.

Participants in the cohorts will be aligned with job opportunities upon completion of the training.

top of page

“Better Outcomes in Layoffs and Downsizing (BOLD)” with Canadian Skills Training & Employment CoalitionUnited Steelworkers of CanadaPrism EconomicsPTP Learning and Employment ProgramsThe Canadian Labour Congress

Canadian manufacturing workers are particularly vulnerable to labour market disruption, such as automation, and could face uncertain futures.

Focusing on early engagement with employers, unions and workers at-risk of downsizing and relocation, the Canadian Skills Training & Employment Coalition, together with partners including the United Steelworkers of Canada, will adapt and evaluate a promising labour adjustment approach currently used in the US. The project will retrain and upskill workers before their jobs are disrupted to minimize the negative impacts on both employers and workers.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $650,632 into BOLD, a two-year project which will test and evaluate this proactive program with four separate companies and 200 mid-career manufacturing and steel workers in Alberta and Ontario. Where women and newcomers are

impacted in the workplaces participating in this project, special consideration will be given to their unique needs as required.

Program features include:

  • Identifying workforce needs and workers’ current skills;
  • Assisting employers and unions in setting up workplace training that addresses those skill gaps;
  • Working with employers and unions to find new jobs in the company for employees who will lose their jobs by helping retrain those employees;
  • Connecting businesses and their workers for short-term, on-the-job, or customized training programs and apprenticeships; and,
  • Connecting workers who are not being retained with other employment opportunities.

top of page

“Transition to a New Tomorrow” with NorQuest College

The downturn in the oil and gas industry has led to unemployment. While new opportunities are available in emerging industries, some mid-career workers experience challenges associated with traditional career transition programs, demonstrate a lack of confidence to return to school, or do not have a realistic sense of their skill sets or how to see their skills as transferable.

NorQuest College will test a unique professional development program that to support mid-career oil and gas workers by facilitating their transition to alternative career paths, whether through further education, or through connection with new industries.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $1,039,853 over two years in the “Transition to a New Tomorrow” project, which will impact a minimum of 120 mid-career workers. The project will take place in Alberta communities, including Drayton Valley, Whitecourt, the industrial parks of Leduc/Nisku, and Acheson.

This innovative professional development program will explore various career counselling and soft skills development approaches, divided into three phases:

  1. Professional exploration: reflecting on their skills and interests;
  2. Professional development: taking the skills training they need; and,.
  3. Professional reflection: reflecting on professional development options

The project encompasses program offers different types of learning opportunities, for example, personal assessments, one-to-one coaching, seminars, work-integrated learning, mentoring, as well as opportunities to receive support from peers. The program is fully customizable and designed to be accessible to a diverse group of non-traditional learners — many of whom are women, immigrants, youth, and indigenous people. It can be completed in-person, online, or both, and to the level or pace suitable to each participants’ unique context.

This program is in partnership with the Community Learning Network, a non-profit association of over 100 Community Adult Learning Programs across Alberta, community-based adult learning providers and the learners they serve will be informed of and invited to participate in the project, where it supports the career transition needs and goals of learners.

top of page

“Continuous Learning for Individuals’ Mid-career and Beyond (CLIMB)” with Northern Lights College

Mid-career workers are most vulnerable to disruption of the labour market but there is little widespread information, resources, or training to support a mid-career change.

Northern Lights College has developed the CLIMB project to increase mid-career workers’ interest in training and education and reduce their fears associated with the unknown. The goal of CLIMB is to help mid-career workers interested in a career change to take action towards obtaining additional education.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $754,315 in CLIMB, a two-year project in British Columbia’s North and South Peace River Service Region, including participants from Indigenous and Aboriginal communities.

Engaging approximately 200 participants, the Northern Lights College CLIMB program will provide support at three stages:

  • Identifying the type of re-training program: researching advice;
  • Selecting the right program: decision-making advice; and,
  • Applying to the program: how to meet admissions requirements

A CLIMB online platform will help participants to identify the risks posed to their jobs by automation, their individual strengths, how their skills match with employers’ needs, and will create a personalized skills training plan to gain access to admission amelioration courses and/or support.

top of page

“Supporting Mid-Career Workers with Disabilities through Community-Building, Education and Career-Progression Resources” with UOIT, York UniversityNipissing UniversityDurham CollegeNational Educational Association of Disabled StudentsCouncil of Canadians with DisabilitiesManitoba League of Persons with DisabilitiesQuebec Association for Equity and Inclusion in Postsecondary Education.

While today’s changing labour market can be challenging for many workers, mid-career workers with disabilities (MCWD) are both more vulnerable to market disruptions and face additional barriers to career adaptability.

UOIT (Ontario Tech University), together with partners including the National Education Association of Disabled Students, Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities and Quebec Association for Equity and Inclusion in Postsecondary Education, has designed a project to assess MCWD needs and develop and evaluate tools and resources to increase their ability to make key decisions about career transitions.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $650,632 in this project, which will take place over two years, and will impact hundreds of mid-career workers with disabilities across Canada.

The project has three aims: (1) to increase peer support and networking opportunities, (2) to develop career adaptiveness and related skills, and (3) to provide a sense of hope about work. This will be accomplished in three phases:

  1. Identifying the needs and experiences of MCWD in their work ecosystem (employers and disability organizations/advocacy groups);
  2. Developing tools and resources that match these needs, including an educational toolkit, peer-to-peer online network, career resources, and a virtual coaching series; and,
  3. Testing and evaluating these tools and resources.

The tools and resources will be informed by research into the experiences, perceptions, and needs of mid-career workers with disabilities.

top of page

“Building the Skills of the Trucking Industry” with Trucking Human Resource Sector Council Atlantic, PEI Trucking Sector Council, Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada, Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association, Immigrant Settlement Agency of NS, Native Council of Nova Scotia, St. Francis Xavier University’s Centre for Employment Innovation

Trucking is the primary method for freight transportation in Canada. While the demand for transportation continues to grow, the industry faces both an aging workforce and a shortage of qualified professional drivers. The industry is additionally at risk of disruption as the automation of vehicles is on the horizon. As a result, some professional drivers in the trucking industry are concerned about continued opportunities and whether they have the skills required to meet changing demands.

By way of response, the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council Atlantic and its partners will develop a skills enhancement program to 1) improve productivity of drivers today, and 2) prepare the workforce for future technological advancements. The project will leverage virtual reality technology to deliver training in a way that compliments varied learning styles. The virtual reality simulator is the first of its kind specifically designed for the trucking industry with AI technology and the ability to track the user’s eyes and enhance their driving skills in the unlimited replays.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $693,420 in this two-year project, which will offer innovative teaching tools to a minimum of 150 professional drivers in Atlantic Canada, with a goal of testing how to support the retention of the existing workforce and the recruitment of new workers to the sector.

top of page

“Skilled jobs for Mid-Career Workers Through Work-Based Learning” with Work-Based Learning Consortium, Canadian Association of Mold Makers

Ontario’s auto sector is experiencing huge disruption with the advent of new technologies and automation, displacing large numbers of mid-career workers. At the same time, parts of the industry are experiencing a shortage of skilled workers. Mold-making and injection-molding companies in the Kitchener-Waterloo and Greater Toronto Areas report a severe shortage of experienced, skilled workers to fill mold making and repair job vacancies.

The Work-Based Learning Consortium (WBLC) is partnering with Canadian Association of Mold Makers to explore how to upskill displaced workers, providing them with the training required to fill vacancies in the mold-making and injection-molding trades in the Greater Toronto Area (including Oshawa) and the Kitchener-Waterloo areas. The Future Skills Centre is investing $873,300 in this 20-month project. The program will transition 24 mid-career workers who will either gain or be assured continuation of full-time permanent employment as skilled workers.

The Worked-Based Learning competency-based model circumvents traditional CV and qualification-based recruitment approaches and has proven successful in other population groups. The project will take place in two stages:

  1. Competencies for the target job will be mapped, candidates who have been displaced, (or are at risk of being displaced) will be identified and referred for interviews; and,
  2. Successful candidates will go through digitally-delivered classroom learning to acquire the basic theoretical knowledge and on-the-job training to obtain an industry-recognized credential.

top of page

“Preparedness of Learning (Learner Shock)” with University of Manitoba

As a result of changes in the labour market, mid-career workers are suddenly facing the prospect of ‘returning to school’, often 20-50 years after their last educational experience. These mid-career workers may experience “Learner Shock” – the experience of frustration, confusion, and anxiety that comes with exposure to unfamiliar learning, teaching methods, and expectations. This experience can be a powerful barrier to completing a training program and, by extension, to a successful transition to a new position or industry.

Mid-career workers with disabilities and individuals for whom English is a second language may be particularly susceptible to experiencing “Learner Shock”. This is also true of mid-career workers from Indigenous populations. These same groups are also the ones who are most vulnerable to labour market disruptions and who have the highest level of non-completion of training programs.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $366,100 in this two-year project, which will design, implement, and test strategies for addressing “Learning Shock.” The project outlines three objectives:

  1. Identifying the factors that lead to “Learner Shock”;
  2. Developing strategies to promote the skills, knowledge, and behaviours to overcome “Learner Shock” and foster lifelong learning; and,
  3. Creating evidence-based best practices to be utilized by employers or organizations to enhance current/future retraining programs and learning resources for adult learners.

top of page

“Supporting Mid-Career Workers in Retail and Meat Processing” with United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada

Technological and demographic pressures are threatening the future livelihoods of mid-career retail and meat processing workers. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) represents more than 45,000 cashiers and 40,000 food manufacturing workers, many of whom work in meat processing —sectors that are both facing a huge displacement of workers due to automation.

This project will test how to equip UFCW members across Canada with the requisite skills, trade certifications, and professional standards needed to thrive in strong growth rate occupations such as chefs, cooks, bakers, retail sales supervisors, horticultural technicians, accommodation service managers.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $495,000 over 12 months in this project, which will reach UFCW members in 600 cities and towns across Canada, in both rural and urban areas. UFCW Canada’s program will focus on the following three key activities:

  1. Providing accessible learning formats to UFCW workers focused on building digital and enhancing soft skills;
  2. Introducing a new approach to pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeships for voluntary service and industrial trades that blends on-the-job experience with digital technology; and,
  3. Exploring pathways for sector migration from occupations with high-automation risks to industries and roles with projected growth.

The project will be informed by research on the perspectives of retail and meat processing workers about the automation of their sectors and their level of interest in new opportunities.

top of page

“Be EPIC: Dementia Training for Mid-Career Workers” with Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research UnitWestern UniversityMcCormick Dementia Services, Community Training and Development Centre in Northumberland County, PATIO Interactive

Canada’s population of people living with dementia (PLWD) is increasing rapidly. Because it is a population with complex needs and cognitive impairments, communicating about their care needs can be difficult. This puts a lot of pressure on personal support workers (PSWs) who are on the front line of caring for PLWD.

PSWs are a vulnerable group of health care providers. They are mostly females, many are over the age of 40, mid-career, and often with English as a second language. Many PSWs have transitioned from other careers and have multiple jobs. Few have received adequate dementia skills development training.

Researchers at Western University’s Sam Katz Community Health and Aging Research Unit developed ‘Be EPIC’, a two-day dementia-specific skill development program. The training program teaches PSWs to use person-centered communication, incorporate social history of clients into care routines, and use the environment when caring for people living with dementia.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $418,717 over two years in this project, which will scale-up, test, and evaluate the Be EPIC training program, and will engage 48 participants in an urban setting (London, Ontario) and a rural setting (Northumberland County, Ontario).

By leveraging virtual reality technology, the program allows PSWs who are culturally and linguistically diverse to gain the skills necessary to relate to PLWD and provide quality care. This will enhance quality care and build confidence and decrease stress among PSWs.

top of page

Inaugural innovation projects

FSC has committed $11.58M in funding over two years for six inaugural innovation projects. Working with Indigenous and Northern communities, newcomers to Canada, and young job-seekers, these inaugural innovation projects include experimenting with innovative and inclusive approaches to digital skills training, competency assessment models, career pathways, and employability skills development.

Below is an overview of the projects:

“Indigenous ICT Development Centre” with ID Fusion and FireSpirit

Exploring approaches to build awareness and capacity in the information and communications technology sector for Indigenous youth and underemployed communities

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is one of the fastest growing industries in Canada. Though demand for talent is high, Indigenous people are extremely underrepresented in ICT occupations.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $670K in a 16-month project led by FireSpirit and ID Fusion Software, which will assess the value of an Indigenous ICT Development Centre in providing ICT services and training to local communities.

The Indigenous ICT Development Centre will work with Indigenous youth and underemployed people and test approaches to meaningful training and paid work experience, job coaching, and mentorship while in their home communities. In collaboration with Indigenous and non-Indigenous employers, this project assesses the matching of ICT professionals with businesses looking for ICT support services.

This project is uniquely driven by two Indigenous private sector organizations to create a framework to allow Indigenous ICT professionals to train, collaborate, and market their services individually and collectively. The project involves 40 participants, in the communities surrounding Winnipeg and The Pas, Manitoba.

top of page

“Facilitating Access to Skilled Talent (FAST)” with Immigration Employment Council of British Columbia (IEC-BC)

Testing expanded occupation streams for an online skills assessment and development platform to help newcomers better enter the labour market

Immigration is essential for the growth of Canada’s economy. However, on average, newcomers to Canada have higher unemployment rates and lower wages despite higher education levels. Piloted as a pre-arrival program, FAST is an online, occupation-specific, skills assessment and development platform to help newcomers overcome barriers like international credential recognition and a lack of Canadian work experience.

Through occupation-specific technical and soft skill competency assessments, FAST helps newcomers compare their skills against standards required for work in Canada, resulting in better understanding of how their skills can meet labour needs. Having served over 600 clients in 68 occupations in skilled trades, biotechnology and life sciences, and information technology, initial results show that 66% of FAST clients who have landed in Canada found work in their field within four weeks of arrival.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $2.38M in this two-year project led by IEC-BC, which will test the current streams and explore expanded pathways in accounting, tourism, and hospitality sectors to meet demand in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia, supporting 1,500 newcomers.

top of page

“Defining Digital Competencies” with the Information Technology Association Canada (ITAC)

New skills training program to test a blended approach for digital and professional competencies

Due to rapidly shifting digital skills needs, a disconnect exists between the skills of many post-secondary graduates and the technical skills required by employers. These digital skills often include a combination of innovation, entrepreneurship, an understanding of the technology adoption processes, and soft skills, including communications, creativity, and adaptability. Innovative approaches are needed to better define the digital competencies required to fill this talent gap and create new opportunities.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $1.24M in a two-year project led by ITAC, which explores new approaches to defining digital competencies and creating new pathway opportunities into digital roles for non-STEM graduates, internationally-educated professionals, and high-potential workers without traditional credentials. This subsidized project uniquely delivers skills training in a heavily-blended approach for digital and professional competencies.

ITAC, along with member companies and partners, will work to define a set of in-demand, innovative digital competencies. Using this knowledge, curriculum will be developed and tested for alternative pathways into digital roles. Rigorous skills testing and aptitude assessments will be a key component of this project. 

This project will target 370 job seekers and employers in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia.


top of page

“For-Credit InSTEM Program” with Actua

Testing a culturally-based approach to essential employability skills training for Indigenous and Northern youth

While Indigenous youth are one of the fastest-growing populations in Canada, their participation rates in the digital and STEM-based economy are below the national average. Barriers to Indigenous and Northern engagement in the workforce include low high school completion rates and lack of opportunities to participate in STEM programs where Indigenous culture and knowledge is recognized as the foundation for skills development.

The Future Skills Centre will invest $2.3M in a two-year project led by Actua, which aims to look at ways to address these barriers through a for-credit high school program to apply a locally and culturally relevant approach to building digital literacy with key foundational, reading, and numeracy skills. The project involves the assessment of two key programs: an in-school component and a summer-based on-the-land component, both rendering high school credits. During the second year of the project, a work placement program will be developed and tested, and selected students completing the land program will be placed in Actua-facilitated internships with industry partners.

75 First Nations youths will take part in the first cohort of this program, including Kwanlin Dün and Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nations youth in Yukon; Gwich’in First Nations and Inuvialuit youth in Northwest Territories; and Frog Lake First Nations youth in Alberta.

Actua works closely with Indigenous community leaders, local school boards, Elders, and industry partners to develop program curriculum to ensure programming reflects local priorities. The Indigenous-led land-based learning model is designed to meet the specific needs and interests of Indigenous youth.

top of page

“Bridging Competencies in a Technology-Supported Youth Employment Pathway” with Ontario Tourism Education Corporation (OTEC), First Work, and MaRS Discovery District

Testing an integrated assessment model and job matching for youth job seekers

With rapid and often confusing changes to the labour market, career pathways are becoming less linear and predictable for Canadian youth entering the workforce. Youth often face challenges understanding emerging opportunities and recognizing transferable experience. Infrastructure is needed to help youth navigate employment paths in more responsive, personalized, and targeted ways.

The Future Skills Centre is investing $2.5M in a two-year project led by OTEC, MaRS Discovery District, and First Work, which explores the creation of a single, technology-enabled employment pathway for youth.

This project explores how competency assessment models can be enhanced by technology to support more targeted employment skills training. OTEC’s ALiGN assessment and job-matching model is designed to “screen in” candidates in the absence of transferable skills or experience. MaRS’ Employment Pathway Platform is a career guidance tool created in partnership with Google to help create career paths in a rapidly changing economy.

This project integrates both technologies from OTEC and MaRS into a single cohesive platform covering two key stages of the employment and skills development process. First, the platform identifies occupations that fit with a youth job seeker’s interests and then, secondly, explores the required skills to be successful in those roles. In partnership with First Work, key partners will be included in youth employment services organizations.

This project will engage 2,000 youth in pursuit of the most efficient skills training path to employment and ongoing career navigation in Western, Central, and Atlantic Canada.


top of page

“Future Skills Innovation Network for Universities” with FUSION

A national network of Canadian universities focused on innovative skills development to prepare students for the future economy

Today’s rapidly changing economy is leaving many university graduates chronically underemployed. However, universities are uniquely positioned to train students in the technical knowledge and soft skills they need to adapt and succeed.

To help universities bridge this gap, the Future Skills Centre is investing $2.5M over two years in FUSION, a national network of six universities — Concordia University, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary, University of Saskatchewan, Carleton University, and Memorial University of Newfoundland. This initial funding supports FUSION’s network model, which will foster collaboration around skills development and speed the diffusion of successful innovations.

FUSION’s projects focus on building more inclusive forms of skills development through its three priorities:

  • Assessing the teaching methods for integrating more future skills into formal and informal instruction;
  • Creating more flexible learning formats to better facilitate skill acquisition to improve employability; and,
  • Increasing access to and success within post-secondary education for underrepresented students, such as Indigenous groups, disabled and racialized students, and women in STEM fields.

FUSION will involve approximately 1,500 students enrolled in for-credit programs in its first two years. It also aims to open pathways into university education by partnering with primary and secondary schools, non-profit organizations, and government-funded programs. This will shed light that increased collaboration across the educational pathway improves graduates’ employability. FUSION’s network structure and collaborative goals represent a new way of working for Canadian universities to fill an important gap in Canada’s post-secondary landscape.

top of page