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October 07, 2020

Skills, social justice and the future of work:

RBC Future Launch moves the needle for BIPOC and barriered youth

Noah Aiken-Klar and Mark Beckles have helped build RBC’s $500-million commitment to invest in the future of work, especially for BIPOC and barriered youth, from the ground up. RBC Future Launch, a ten-year program that launched in 2016, marks the largest community commitment RBC has made to address a single significant social issue.

Tackling the youth skills gap

“In several respects, the system is failing Canadian youth in the new economy,” said Aiken-Klar, then Director of Youth Social Impact, when asked to describe the challenge RBC Future Launch was created to tackle. The program emerged from the realization that young Canadians are not right-skilled for the future of work. According to McKinsey & Company’s 2015 Youth in Transition report, 34 percent of employers report that young people don’t have the skills for the jobs they are offering today. Of even more concern, youth are not being equipped with the skills they’ll need for the jobs of tomorrow. As RBC’s own research shows, half of all jobs that exist now will either change dramatically or undergo a skills overhaul in the next decade. (Humans Wanted: How Canadian youth can thrive in the age of disruption, RBC, 2018).
With technological advances happening in real time and the challenges BIPOC and barriered youth face entering the labour market, RBC – as one of Canada’s largest employers – knew this was a problem that had to be rectified.
“We’re using 19th-century educational models and systems, 20th-century hiring practices, and we’re dealing with 21st-century challenges,” Aiken-Klar said. “We owe it to youth to think about how we can innovate and update how they are being trained and taught. And how we can update who we are hiring and how we are supporting them.” 

Developing solutions to drive prosperity and unleash innovation

For Beckles, Senior Director of Youth Strategy and Innovation, it’s important that RBC Future Launch addresses this problem at the micro and macro levels. “BIPOC and barriered youth want to get into tech jobs but there are many obstacles,” he said. “If you roll this up to a prosperity perspective for Canada and look at the data, you’ll see that we have been in active decline in productivity. As a country, we tend to rely too much on our natural resources and too little on our people to drive innovation. If we can’t discover the talent, we could have a problem.”
RBC Future Launch’s role is not to dictate what should be done, Beckles believes, but rather to support the best solutions that will benefit youth. These solutions could bring Canada’s GDP output closer to the average of other G7 countries. Beyond the concrete economic impact, there is the social imperative to unleash the full potential of a generation of future leaders to contribute to solving the existential global crises we face. Those leaders will need to do this working in or creating careers we cannot yet imagine using skills and competencies that our current educational and training structures are not built to develop.

Reimagining the future of work 

RBC Future Launch is leading the reimagining of what the future of work looks like for today’s students. Leveraging RBC’s scope, reach and status, they are spearheading dialogue about how human-centered soft skills – like communication, creativity and complex problem solving – are critical in a world where young people compete against robots and artificial intelligence for jobs.
Through research and consultation with youth, schools, businesses, governments and non-profits across Canada, RBC Future Launch homes in on four key solution areas that young people face transitioning into adulthood and where their investment can make the biggest difference: developing the right set of skills, building their networks, gaining entry-level experience, and accessing mental health resources.
It has taken multiple levers to help drive the kind of systems change that is needed. Since 2016, RBC Future Launch and more than 600 partner organizations, including non-profits such as The Learning Partnership, have supported students in and out of classrooms. They’ve worked with universities and colleges to ensure that post-secondary education is equipping young people with the skills they need. They’ve convened educators, parents and young people to help spur conversations and influence decision-makers. And they are supporting innovative research through institutes like Ryerson University.
The program is also helping young people develop skills outside of the traditional school system. The emergence of trades and technology, apprenticeships, certificates and online programs have increased in value in the eyes of young people and employers. These routes to skills-building are often less expensive, more readily available, and less time-intensive. “It’s not just about contributing to improvements in the school system,” said Aiken-Klar. “It’s also about supporting other additional opportunities.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion to drive growth, uncover talent and open up community opportunities 

RBC Future Launch’s goal of getting 25,000 youth into industries where they are under-represented is part of that work, and here as elsewhere they apply a diversity, equity and inclusion lens. “We’ve ensured our RBC Future Launch community investments are directed at the most vulnerable and barriered youth, the majority of whom are diverse,” Beckles said, explaining how they are focusing on youth who could most benefit from the investment. “That’s where we create real inclusion. That’s where we integrate equity. And that’s hard work. But it’s work that needs to be done.”

For Beckles, the work resonates with the larger national discussion on racial injustice that is taking place in homes, schools and boardrooms. “At no other time in our history has there been a more open, transparent conversation about racial injustice and systemic bias – and even more, a willingness to do something about it,” he said.

Beyond Future Launch, RBC is looking at how to make substantive progress on racial justice in its role as a leading technology employer and as a bank. From making $100 million in loans accessible to BIPOC owners of small businesses to hosting a series of listening conversations across RBC that have engaged Black employees so they can share their lived experiences, “there is an unprecedented openness about the topic,” Beckles said. “We’ve been able to rethink how we invest at the community level and how we dismantle the barriers that people experience from a talent management perspective.”


Leading with vision, leaving a legacy 

Both Aiken-Klar and Beckles agree that while community investment and diversity strategies have long been part of RBC’s DNA, it’s the leadership of President and CEO Dave McKay, recently named Corporate Citizen of the Year by The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, that has powered RBC Future Launch and made transformative change possible.

“We’ve seen this emergence of the understanding that Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour in Canada are being left out of conversations and opportunities,” Aiken-Klar said. “Any community that leaves out the voices and perspectives of diverse groups of people is not just leaving money on the table, but hindering our collective ability to tackle challenges and move forward together.”
That’s the vision for change that Aiken-Klar and Beckles are striving toward and the legacy they hope RBC Future Launch will leave behind.
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