CAREERS: The Next Generation

Growing Our Youth For The Energy Jobs of The Future.

Baby Boomers, those over 57, have retired or are preparing to retire from the workforce. Generation X, 41-to-56, is usually heading into their final career stages. Generation Y, ages 25-40, have established or found a career.

With this in mind and with great foresight, the charitable foundation CAREERS: The Next Generation was created in 1997 to assist young people to get a head start in a career.  1997 was also the start of Generation Z,  the current 24-and-younger generation of whom many are just getting started or looking for a career path.

YMM Magazine sat down with two staff members of CAREERS: The Next Generation at their Fort McMurray office located on MacDonald Crescent.

Starting with an easy question to ask but a hard one to answer: “What is CAREERS: The Next Generation?

“We primarily work with high school students across Alberta but we also have post-high school programs,” said Elaine Read, Regional Manager for Northeast Alberta and a resident of Fort McMurray for 32 years. “We (CAREERS: The Next Generation) go into most high schools across Alberta (475 schools provincial-wide in 2019) where we provide students with career awareness, exploration, and experience.  In the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, we engage with every high school in our region from Fort Chipewyan to Conklin and this year we had students from every community apply to our programs, a CAREERS first!

“We present to students in Grade 9 and Grade 10 about in-demand careers for the Alberta economy with a primary focus on trades and technologies, health, and forestry.  In grades 10 -12, students who identify they are interested in a career can then apply to our programs for an opportunity for a paid internship during the school semester or in the summer.   Then we do what we do best – we link the students with one of our employer partners.  We go out and make relationships with multiple employers (803 provincial-wide in 2019) and stakeholders who are committed to growing the youth for tomorrow’s workforce.  The employers support students through exploration events or by hiring them as an intern. ”

Before the students are placed in an internship, where they grow in their knowledge, confidence, and employability skills, they are provided with career awareness and information on CAREERS programs. This is where Program Coordinator Eric Leatham comes in with his venture into the school rooms.

“I go in to present to Grade 9s and there are definitely some students still trying to figure out what life looks like and there are some that have an idea of where they think they want to go and what they want to do,” said Leatham, whosr original two-year planned venture in Fort McMurray has now turned into 12. “I give them the high-level overview of CAREERS and if they are interested in learning more about a particular program, we will go into smaller groups and go into more specifics.  We may get a group of students interested in welding, so we will have a welder come in and talk about what the career is like to help the student make the best choice.”

“My biggest message to them in Grade 9 is to not to close doors. It’s not necessary that they are ready to take a step into what they want to do for a career. It is just, that their decisions in Grade 9 can impact what they do in Grade 10 and 11 and 12. They need to focus and take the right courses early, so those doors are not closed for them. We are ensuring they have options so they can explore careers that interest them in the future.  Of course, we also hope they will consider applying to one of our many programs to get experience and explore a career.”

Last year the local CAREERS: The Next Generation team talked to between “700 to 800 high school students” guesstimated Leatham. Of that, almost 300 were accepted into the various high school and post-high school programs.

“We also connected with hundreds of youth in the 18-25 year old demographic for the CO-OP Apprenticeship Program and the Scaffolding programs. We are looking to expand our offerings in the months and years ahead to offer solutions to our employer partners to help build their future skilled workforce.”

“Our success hinges on student interest, employer uptake and the economy,” said Read. “We also have to make sure the student shows they are a good fit….that they have the employability skills the employer wants to see. We vet students for their attendance and academics but, most importantly, their attitude.  Employers are very willing to invest in youth and train them, but they want a student who will show up, be eager, and want to learn and be mentored.”

CAREERS: The Next Generation offers various programs related to the industrial and energy fields with the Trades Programs (High School Trades Program and CAREERS CO-OP Apprenticeship Program), Dual-Credit Programs (Non-Destructive Testing, Water Wastewater Operator, Power Engineering), Scaffolding, Information Communications Technology, and a program for Indigenous youth that encourages them to apply to any career they are interested in.

“The Energy sector encompasses all types of career choices and it is not just trades or engineers,” said Read. “One career in high demand is a career in Information Communications Technology as we know that every employer requires employees that have strong digital skills.  We look at where there will be gaps in the labour force and build awareness and interest in these careers for the next generation – so the talent will be there for the employers now and in the future.”

For high school students, the internships commence in Grade 10-12 and the benefits are immense.

“When a student gets a placement, it links the importance of education to that work-site as well as shows the student how to progress into that career after high school.  Often when students return to school after a placement, they have a better understanding of how math and science relate to the career they want to go into and they also tend to earn higher grades,” says Read proudly.

Both Read and Leatham, in chorus, say that both the “Employers, Schools and Off-Campus Coordinators are the unsung heroes and the ones that make the magic happen.”

Read continues: “The Off-Campus Coordinators are the ones that go and recruit the students for us.  They are the ones mentoring the students throughout the year… helping them getting ready for the application date and welcoming us into their schools.  The Employers put their faith in us and have a strong commitment to investing in their future workforce today.”

“We are the ones that pull the rabbit out of the hat,” meaning that CAREERS makes the internship match between student and employer a reality.

With the ever-changing landscape of the workforce, how does CAREERS: The Next Generation maintain a steady stream of knowledge?

“We have a research and development team that looks at what are the trends across the province and where are the gaps and what the employers identify as a need. There has to be a potential pathway. We don’t put students into labour positions. We want them to come out with a credential or skilled occupation that they will have for a lifetime. We are building Alberta’s future skilled workforce,” said Read.

“We are promoting careers where there will be demand. We are not sending students into careers that are drying up. We know our energy partners are visionaries and we know they are talking about how they will adapt and what careers will be critical for them to train and recruit in the future.“

Of CAREERS: The Next Generation future?

“Some people say that we are the best-kept secret but we don’t want to be the best-kept secret anymore,” said Leatham.  “We want people shouting from the roofs that CAREERS: The Next Generation is something exceptional.  We are also in a wonderful spot in that a lot of students know of other students who have gone through our programs and had success; so they want to get engaged as well.  They know that the opportunity is a golden ticket for them and they want to be part of it.”

Read concluded:  “Our programs build stronger communities.  In building the future workforce, we are helping communities invest in their youth which results employers having a skilled workforce to tap into and young people acquiring skilled careers.  It is these same youth who will grow up and invest back into their communities by raising families, buying homes, supporting businesses, and being our next leaders.”

Fort McMurray, say hello to Generation Z.



  • High school students participate in Tour of the Trades at Syncrude. Photo supplied
  • Young women explore the AST trade at Suncor.
  • Conklin Metis youth explore carpentry and build benches for the community.
  • Local youth excited and happy to be starting their apprenticeship in the CO-OP program. Supplied photos
Curtis J.. Phillips
Contributor | + posts

Residing in Fort McMurray since 1982, Curtis J. Phillips is a productive sports journalist in print/electronic mediums.  He enjoys researching local sports history and was Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference Sports Writer from 2008-2019. Recognized as Canada’s Basketball Historian, he is an advocate for community volunteerism.

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