Starting UP during Lock DOWN

Rachel Sumner

November 4, 2021

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Today marks our Executive Director’s first TALENT-iversary. Here she shares a few things she’s learned over the course of the past 365 days about starting a workforce development business during a global pandemic.
I’ve been in love with the same problem for over two decades. The problem of meaningful employment for all. Every role I’ve taken over the last twenty years has offered me a new way to look at the problem, to take a new perspective on it and become even more effective in helping solve it. Being invited by TALENT’s Board to come and launch this new subsidiary of Ontario Tech University focused on the job readiness of their students, alumni and the workforce of their employer partners would have offered me much to learn regardless of the global pandemic.. But add in a global pandemic and there has been even more learning than I could have imagined. Here are just a couple of the things I’ve learned that I hope will be of interest and value for those who are considering launching a startup organization or are interested in meaningful employment for all.

1. People do business with people they like and trust

I’ve been in love with the same problem for over two decades. The problem of meaningful employment for all. Every role I’ve taken over the last twenty years has offered me a new way to look at the problem, to take a new perspective on it and become even more effective in helping solve it. Being invited by TALENT’s Board to come and launch this new subsidiary of Ontario Tech University focused on the job readiness of their students, alumni and the workforce of their employer partners would have offered me much to learn regardless of the global pandemic.. But add in a global pandemic and there has been even more learning than I could have imagined. Here are just a couple of the things I’ve learned that I hope will be of interest and value for those who are considering launching a startup organization or are interested in meaningful employment for all.
So, how do you achieve that during a global pandemic when the world is locked down? You bring yourself to virtual meetings in the same way you would in person. Be human. Be authentic and deliver what you say you will, on time and with excellence. It’s not complicated.
I’ve been a proponent of online learning since the end of the last century (wow, does that make me feel old?!) and I can’t tell you the number of times people have argued with me that you can’t forge strong relationships between educators and learners when teaching and learning online. I never agreed with that statement and I have even less reason to agree with it now. It is perfectly possible to forge strong, trust based relationships without ever meeting in person. We’ve done it to launch this business and we will continue to do it to serve clients and customers we’d NEVER have been able to reach otherwise.

2. Ship Fast

Again another gift of prior learning, this time from a former Executive colleague, that has served us well over the past year. He led the product development operation in a global company we both worked for at the time. His mantra was ‘ship fast’; and from this I took that he was a proponent of Steve Blank’s philosophy that “there are no facts inside the building, go get the hell outside.”
Let’s face it, we could have spent the pandemic developing a single microcredential, ‘polishing it with love’ before offering it to its intended audience. Likely to find they had no interest in it at all; certainly not enough to want to pay for it! But instead we decided to get out of the building. (Note: Team TALENT are location independent and remain so, so there wasn’t really a building to get out of but I think you understand what I’m saying here!).
We launched our fabulous Customer Advisory Group (virtually) and met regularly with this group of our intended customers, we scheduled hundreds of calls with prospective customers and we even hired a few of them as interns. We ‘shipped’ 9 products in less than six months. And our customers told us what they thought of them; good, bad and indifferent. We are already on the third version of many of our products, increasing our sales each time, because we shipped fast and we keep listening to our customers. All virtually. During a global pandemic. If we can do it, you can do it too.

3. The Workforce is Mobilizing

Slowly. Research by organizations such as the World Bank suggest those entering the workforce now will need to reskill for new careers more than 8 times in their 60 year working life (yes, you read that correctly – a 60 year working life). And we are not talking about new jobs or new roles. We are talking about new careers. That means significant reskilling on average every 7 years. No one can afford to go back to school every seven years. The workforce is therefore readying itself for a lifetime of learning. As Josh Bersin might describe it; learning in the flow of work.
Interest is increasing daily in opportunities such as TALENT’s microcredentials to reskill for meaningful employment. And in fact the pandemic has accelerated this interest. Workers are beginning to realise that their relationship with their employer is changing. Job displacement has become a reality for many and contract roles are on the increase in the slowly emerging gig economy. This is requiring workers to take responsibility for their own professional development so that they become a valuable (contract) hire at multiple organizations. A movement has begun. A movement of workers looking for solutions to ensure they remain job ready lifelong and TALENT is here to help.
We’ve achieved a lot in this first year and we’ve got BIG plans for the next. Subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss out on any of it!
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