The Canada Summer Games: Short-term Staff; Long-term Impact

Your non-profit organization might operate on a five-year strategic planning cycle. The Board might have a long-term planning committee and you probably hire employees you can train, nurture, and shape for the future. And, hopefully, you have succession planning on your mind.

So how would you manage an organization that’s only supposed to be around for a couple of years – a non-profit pop-up designed to meet a short-term need? That’s the challenge faced by Jeff Hnatiuk, President and CEO of the 2017 Canada Summer Games Host Society.

“Even though this is a short-term enterprise, we recruited with the spirit of building capacity for the future,” said Hnatiuk, the long-time President and CEO of Sport Manitoba, seconded for the Canada Summer Games. “We were looking for younger employees along with a few more experienced people who could serve as mentors.”

While a few employees were actively recruited – particularly those with some experience from the 1999 Pan-Am Games and other major events – about 90 percent of the 65 staff positions were filled through an open process. Many hundreds of people applied for jobs that would only last from a few months to about four years.

“I think people who applied knew that this was a very special major event and they wanted to be a part of it,” said Hnatiuk, who has worked in sports administration since 1986. “They also know that if the games are a success, their job here will look great on a résumé.”

Hnatiuk also notes that that the workforce has changed over the years and “people aren’t afraid to take on a short-term assignment.” There is a lot of mobility in the workforce, he added, and “there are people who choose careers in sports administration. After the Pan-Am Games in ’99, there were people who took assignments with other games, including the Olympics. The Canada Summer Games offers the same opportunity.”

That all said, in an organization with a short lifespan there are some HR challenges, especially retention.

“We’ve hired great people so it’s no surprise that some of them entertain other opportunities while they work here. After all, their jobs will end soon,” he said. “We have lost a few people along the way.”

For Hnatiuk, retention is best supported by fostering enthusiasm for the event itself. The excitement can take on a life of its own, creating a sort of shared community adrenaline. “The motivation to excel and to stay through the hard work, long hours, and strict deadlines is the belief that we are doing something very special for the community – something with a remarkable, long-term impact,” said Hnatiuk.

He also notes how important it is to create short-term goals and targets around which people can rally – whether that means hitting volunteer recruitment targets, securing accommodations for over 4,500 athletes and officials, achieving ticket sales goals, and a number of other benchmarks.

“The importance of having short-term, measureable goals is an important take-away for me and something that any organization can benefit from,” he said.

The Canada Summer Games – celebrating its fiftieth anniversary – are expected to generate over $150 million in economic impact in Manitoba. The Games have attracted nearly 6,000 community-minded volunteers, and are certain to create new fans and admirers of amateur sport – something very close to Jeff Hnatiuk’s heart.

“I see amateur sport as a social good,” he said. “Not only does participation in sport make us physically healthier, but it is also an exceptional way to welcome newcomers to Canada and strengthen the community. I see the Canada Summer Games as a celebration of everything that is great about sport.”

The 2017 Canada Summer Games run July 28 to August 13. For more information, visit http://www.2017canadagames.ca/.

Bringing Workforce Development Up to Code

Pablo Listingart first learned about Winnipeg while watching the 1999 Pan-Am Games on television in his Buenos Aries living room. He didn’t dream of living in Winnipeg at the time. Today, he wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. And he wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.

The 36-year-old information technology expert runs his own web design company, but his true passion is Comunidad IT (ComIT), the non-profit organization he launched with partners in Argentina and has recently launched in Manitoba. ComIT’s mission is to help young people and marginalized populations learn computer skills – especially coding – to meet the needs of the changing workplace.

Listingart had the idea of launching ComIT while working for Microsoft in 2007 as an “academic evangelist.”

“My job was to travel around Argentina promoting the merits of Microsoft products to professors and students,” he says. “What I learned in my travels is that colleges and universities could not keep up with the economy’s demand for people with IT skills. There were young people who wanted the training, but didn’t have access. Either they couldn’t afford the education, or they lived too far away, or they had to work to help support their families.”

Listingart ultimately spoke with a few colleagues about the problem and together they launched ComIT in 2012. They designed a focused, market-driven curriculum that they could deliver without a fee for the students. For the first while, they covered their own expenses out of pocket and promoted the free classes on their own.

“We would walk through public parks handing out fliers to young people who we thought might benefit,” he recalls. “We also promoted our courses on social media.”

In short order, Listingart and his colleagues had developed nine three-month courses, students were signing up, and the IT world took notice.

“We got funding from Microsoft, Google, and other companies,” says Listingart. “More important, our graduates were getting jobs. Our first course had 10 students and eight of them found work. Our next group had 13 graduates, and 10 got jobs. It was very satisfying.”

ComIT recently expanded to Chile and is still going strong in Argentina – over 1,000 students have taken courses so far. But while Listingart and his colleagues were taking ComIT to new heights in South America, he and his wife (Solange) were considering a new home.

“We were ready for a change of pace from life in Argentina,” he says. “We considered Europe and the U.S. and it wasn’t the right fit for us. We started to look at Canadian cities and I came to explore Winnipeg. The morning I woke up in a bed-and-breakfast and experienced the silence of the city and heard the trees outside my window, I said: ‘Yeah, this is the place.’”

As soon as Listingart arrived for good in 2015, he started learning about how he could set up ComIT in Manitoba to try to replicate the success the organization was enjoying in Argentina. ComIT’s incorporation as a non-profit was approved in October 2016 and the ink is still drying on the application for charitable status.

“There are similar needs in Canada as there are in Argentina and all over,” he says. “Employers need skilled developers and coders. The schools can’t keep up with the demand, and there are plenty of driven young people who don’t have access to the training. There are people being left behind and they don’t have to be. I have no doubt that ComIT can make a difference in Manitoba and across Canada.”

So far, the Canadian version of ComIT has run one course in Kitchener, Ontario, that included participants from Dubai, Kenya, Pakistan, and other countries. In June 2017, Listingart will be training a group of students through the Information and Communication Technologies Association of Manitoba in Winnipeg, ComIT’s first local assignment.

Listingart has embraced community life since arriving in Winnipeg. He serves as Vice-President of Whyte Ridge Community Centre, coaches his son’s soccer team, and is a new Board member of the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations. He is a networking ninja passionate about ComIT’s potential for the economy, for the community, and for the participants.

“There is no better feeling than getting an email from a student thanking me for the course and telling me they got a great IT job,” says Listingart. “I look forward to getting notes like that from Winnipeggers very soon.”

For more information about ComIT, visit http://www.comit.org/.

English at Work…Works!

The English at Work program is positioning new Canadians to solve an old problem for St.Amant.

“High staff turnover is a challenge that we face here and throughout the sector,” said Jennifer Rodrigue, ‎Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at St.Amant. “Working with children and adults with developmental disabilities is rewarding work, but it doesn’t pay very well so many staff don’t stay long. We are often looking for people.”

At the same time, St.Amant has enjoyed great interest from new Canadians looking for volunteer and paid opportunities when they settle in Manitoba. A large number of new Canadians work for St.Amant and about 75% of the organization’s 300 volunteers are also new Canadians. For many, volunteering at St.Amant is their first Canadian work experience.

St.Amant is a multi-faceted organization that supports more than 1,600 children and adults with developmental disabilities in over 100 community sites and homes. The staffing needs are immense and diverse.

In 2014, St.Amant partnered with Manitoba Start to offer the English at Work program to current staff and long-serving volunteers. The partnership continues today with Enhanced English Skills for Employment. The program is designed to help newcomers feel more competent and confident in the language of the workplace. So far, 62 people have enrolled in the program, including the current cohort of students. All staff born outside of Canada are eligible to participate, as are volunteers who have worked for at least 100 hours.

“We have designed a curriculum quite specific to working at St.Amant,” said Sylvia Thiessen, the federally-funded teacher of the program. “While the students become more comfortable with English in general, they are also learning the language that we use to communicate with each other in the workplace and with the people we support. They are also learning how we use English in our reporting and paperwork.”

The program can accommodate 24 students per year. They are split into two groups, each meeting twice a week for two hours. Thiessen, who has been teaching English as an Additional Language for 12 years, also schedules one-on-one time with the students to answer their questions and further their learning.

Aside from helping current staff and volunteers feel more confident in their roles at St.Amant and opening doors for advancement, the English at Work program also helps newcomers feel more comfortable in Canada, helps them meet their citizenship requirements, and helps them achieve recognition of their professional credentials in Canada, mainly nurses. The English at Work program helps to bridge the gap between the skills they have and the jobs they get when they first arrive in Manitoba.

“One of the most important outcomes that we see is that participants and graduates of the program are taking on informal leadership roles at St.Amant and enriching our workplace culture,” said Thiessen. “Many of them take on active roles at our events and in motivating others. With better English, they are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about their work.”

Thiessen and her St.Amant colleagues are increasingly confident and enthusiastic about the potential of the English at Work program to solve the HR crunch, and they encourage other organizations to look at matching new Canadians with the right training as a way to enrich their organizations.

“Newcomers choose Manitoba and they come here with passion and drive,” said Thiessen. “If you respond with grace, understanding, and the right support, your organization will benefit.”

For more information about St.Amant, visit https://stamant.ca/