Green Skills Network Career College (Finalist)

Contestant organization: 
First Work: The Ontario Association of Youth Employment Centres
Venture partners: 

Venture partners will be contributing to recruitment, job development, curriculum development and training delivery. They are as follows:

  1. 70 Youth Employment Centres across Ontario who are current members of our Association
  2. Private and public trainers across Ontario
Describe your venture: 

The Green Skills Network seeks to become the first cooperatively owned career college in Ontario, operating across the province and serving more than 1,000 students per year.The Green Skills Network trains people for careers in the ever-expanding green economy. As the green economy grows, it rapidly creates varied labour openings that require training. We close the employment gap in these sectors by providing responsive, mobile, hands-on training.We have close relationships with over 70 employment centres across the province, all of whom gain access to or administer government employment training support programs on behalf of their 100,000+ clients. We have also developed a network of industry-based and public training partners. By creating a cooperative structure, we aim to leverage these relationships and create a win-win-win relationship between ourselves, the employment centres, and trainees.The Green Skills Network Career College possesses unique characteristics that distinguish us from other colleges offering courses in green skills training. These distinctive features are as follows:MobilityOur connections with public and private trainers across the province enable us to offer our courses in any location where there is demand and therefore reach a wider audience. Unlike traditional career colleges, our mobility allows us to deliver courses to students without them having to relocate or travel too far to attend. Additionally, our existing direct connections to on-the-ground business-development staff teams in 70 communities across Ontario will further contribute to successfully delivering courses across the province.Low Start-Up, Capital and Operational CostsThe decentralized nature of our college means that we will not be weighed down by expensive building maintenance and rental costs. To deliver our courses, we will rent space on a short-term basis in partnership with local partners with access to low-cost, highly effective training spaces. With regard to start-up costs, the Green Skills Network has already begun to build its image and generate excitement by offering over a dozen pilot trainings. Through our local connections with communities across Ontario we will be able to broaden our services and our brand with minimal costs.Responsive FocusOur courses are designed to keep pace with labour market shifts. We have so far developed courses in solar panel installation and conservation retrofitting as research has indicated that these jobs will be especially high in demand. We will expand to new areas as the labour market continues to change and new sectors emerge, and will do so ahead of provincial policy changes. Our local partners are connected to municipal business development offices and are members of boards of trade, commerce etc. and so are aware of labour market demands as soon as they happen. Additionally, we also keep pace with the demands of our students. For example, we have two curriculums developed for solar panel installation; one is more basic while the other more advanced. The advanced curriculum was designed to respond to a group of previous students who already had skills in electrical work and therefore required more advanced skill development.Connections to Subsidies and SupportsOur existing direct connections to government-supported training subsidies and supports for all levels of government and for all ages of potential students, will allow for greater access to our courses.Connections to EmployersOur existing connections to networks of thousands of employers in all economic sectors, including expanding green sectors, across Ontario will improve employment results for our students.Ability to Withstand Changes in Government PolicyThe Green Skills Network Career College will be one of two streams of a broader First Work Career College. First Work will also offer other professional development courses for career counsellors and job developers. One such example is the Job Developers Institute, which has already established itself as a reputable course with over 150 graduates (see for more details). By offering a variety of courses that are not dependent on government policy, we are ensuring that the career college can continue to be viable during as green jobs growth ebbs and flows.These unique positions are what make our approach innovative. Since emerging green sectors change over the years, and exhibit shifting regional strengths, sometimes in response to government policy and sometimes in response to consumer or commercial trends, our training program needs to be extremely adaptable. Since green sectors often require large geographic areas to be viable, and because so much energy and environmental policy is set on a provincial basis, we have innovatively brought together a province-wide network. And since we already have a well-developed network of thousands of employer contacts across Ontario, we have innovatively focused this asset on the challenge of supporting green economic activity.The Green Skills network has two completely developed sets of curricula, and has gained considerable experience by implementing over a dozen training sessions. These trainings have resulted in 150 Green Skills Network graduates. With these pilots complete, we are ready to expand our offerings and provide the courses to students for a fee.

Emissions reduction potential: 

As Ontario seeks to advance emission reductions, there will be a higher demand for energy conservation and efficiency through retrofitting and renewable energy use. This will increase demand for the manufactured goods, highly trained technicians and general trained labourers that support these activities. The Green Skills Network contributes to this increased need by providing courses in entry-level green skills, where graduates can pursue employment in clean energy and fill labourer positions, and work towards meeting the demand for renewable energies. As the demand is met, emissions will be reduced.The potential impact of the Green Skills Network to support emission reduction in the GTA and throughout Ontario is clear. The Green Skills Network will reduce emissions indirectly; the potential impacts come from supporting the solar PV and conservation retrofit industries by enabling them to grow by providing trained employee candidates. This will in turn lead to more renewable energy and conservation projects completed. It will also contribute to training the next generation of installers and retrofitters in the future workforce. The emission reduction impact of the Green Skills Network will be felt in the short term by allowing emission reduction companies to grow faster by hiring trained employees.

The team: 

Matt Wood, First Work, Executive DirectorMatt Wood is the Executive Director of First Work, which supports a sustainable youth employment network in Ontario. He is the founder of two social enterprises. Evidence Research and Evaluation and Hire Prospects, the youth survey outreach service. Evidence has contributed to the organizational development of over 40 non-profit organizations and private foundations. Hire Prospects has completed 5 provincial and national research projects. Matt has served advisory roles with the Ontario Ministries of Education, Labour and Training, Colleges and Universities. He was Vice-Chair of the National Voluntary Sector Advisory Committee on Employment for Service Canada. He sat on the Board of Directors for Voices for Children, an organization advocating on behalf of children. He advises the National organizing committee for the CANNEXUS employment counselling conference and has been on the Contact Point board. Matt has an M.E.S. in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo where he studied models of youth engagement. Previously, Matt worked in senior youth program management positions at the YMCA of Greater Toronto. Matt has been a consultant with the Ministry of Citizenship Culture and Recreation, as well as the Laidlaw Foundation's Youth Recreation Program.Employment Centres across Ontario (First Work members)First Work member centres are dedicated to delivering accessible, high quality, outcomes-based employment services to their clients to assist them in reaching their employment and life goals. Each centre has substantial experience in connecting with new employers in a variety of industries, and working with them to place clients in temporary or permanent work placements or positions. Employment centres offer a variety of services to their clients, including job coaching and retention strategies. 15 member centres have already participated in Green Skills Network projects and have expressed a strong interest in further participation.For more information, please visit and Public Trainers across OntarioFirst Work subcontracts both private and public trainers to deliver our green skills courses, all of whom have extensive experience in curriculum development and course delivery. Previous course evaluations show that participants have interacted positively with all of our trainers. Previous trainers include Interect inc,ConestogaCollege,NiagaraCollege, St. Lawrence College, 3e Solutions, and Housing Services Incorporated. 

Seeking collaborators: 
Potential collaborators should contact : 
Justine Katz at
How will you ensure your project is self supporting within five years?: 

The Green Skills Network has a comprehensive 80-page business plan that is currently under review. For more information or a copy of the executive summary, please contact Network has generated its operational revenue in its first year primarily from grants and seed money. Organizational development and start-up challenges have already been addressed through pilot projects – we have completed curriculum review, training development, evaluation and knowledge transfer that have validated our assumptions and set the groundwork for the Network to be fully operational. Once fully established, revenue will be generated primarily from student fees.Our target for year 5 sales is to deliver 120 3-day training courses per year across Ontario through 60 of our partners, for an estimated net of 6% per year on revenue of $855,000 per year. Full financial estimates have been developed as part of our business planning process.Access to government training supports such as Employment Ontario, Second Career, Individual Skills Enhancement, Ontario Works and OSAP drives the Network’s marketing to attract students. Connection to government training subsidies will provide a base of 20% of our participants and 20% of our revenue on which to build. With our existing network consisting of seventy (70) employment centres that see over 120,000 clients through their doors annually, the Green Skills Network will recruit the equivalent of 1 percent per year of its networks clientele or approximately 1200 students (in year 5). Student fees will be set to align with government programs, and be competitive with similar offerings, while our narrow emphasis on entry-level employment ready training will contribute to our long-term reputation and brand recognition.We are certain that the demand for jobs is there to sustain a well focused green career college initiative. For example, just within our initial training focus of solar panel installation and conservation retrofitting, the rapid growth of these sectors will require between 3000-4500 laborers be deployed across Ontario alone.This initiative is structured in its start-up phase as a department of First Work, using First Work’s office space, the Executive Director’s oversight and strategic decision making, and the First Work Board accountability structure. A staff team of 3, including a coordinator responsible for all service delivery, a Marketing and Sales Coordinator to manage the creative and administrative aspects and a Research and Dissemination Coordinator to manage value added and sharing to stakeholders of the Green Skills Network. The Network will be accountable to the Board of First Work and will utilize a knowledgeable and diverse advisory committee. With support from the climate spark initiative and others, these groups will review the Network in year three to determine what options (spin off, cooperative, etc.) are most appropriate at that time. We feel a cooperative structure of a licensed career college is the most likely final form the initiative will take.The recommendations made concerning the Green Skills Network market viability, business model, financial model and management structure are based on an analysis of the assets available and attainable. Ultimately, full operation of the Network is dependent on initial funding from grants, loans and/or investments. First Work has available the right assets and organizational capacity to successfully implement the Green Skills Network and will turn funding received into positive returns.

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