Cross Sector Leadership: A Framework for Collaboration

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Sharing Our Learnings: VFC’s Reskilling Retail Workers Project

The Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers Project is a project funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Centre. The project supports the design of a reskilling program focusing on racialized or Indigenous youth in Ontario. 

In the first half of 2020, 1.3 million Canadian retail jobs were lost due to the pandemic and retail was among the top three sectors with the largest drop in labour demand. It is also an industry where 21% of jobs are at high risk of automation with few or no options to transition into lower-risk occupations without significant retraining, according to a 2019 McKinsey study. In Canada, gaps exist in foundational skills development and training opportunities for youth looking to bridge their post-secondary to work transition. The pandemic and automation have widened these gaps and displacement factors disproportionately affect women, Indigenous, and racialized communities.

The Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers project has four phases designed by the team at Venture for Canada. These phases capitalize on innovation and sharing learnings by adopting Blueprint’s framework of aligning evidence generation to the innovation cycle. Phase 1) Collaboration-Impact Framework is outlined, download the full report. This concept generation phase asks, “how might we address the issue?” 

Reskilling programs have a track record of falling short and missing the mark on sustainable impact. This is often due to a lack of holistic design approaches resulting from little or no collaboration across entry and exit industries. A formula for a systems change approach to mass employment sector changes doesn’t exist, and we hope to demonstrate that the Collaboration-Impact Framework is a critical phase leading to long-term sustainability and systems change.

The Collaboration-Impact Framework of the Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers project prioritizes participation from multiple sectors to solve a complex and urgent problem. The first step in the framework gathered multi-sector partners in a true co-creation process of a comprehensive skills training program. The project’s collaborators include organizations that play a vital role in supporting retail workers from various angles, ensuring that we can influence the exit (retail) and entry (technology) sectors and those in between.

“One of the most important dimensions leading to success in skill development and placement programs is that the voices of all types of stakeholders are brought together. These voices each contribute to a symphony which comprises thoughtful consultation and engagement approaches, meaningful incentive systems, and relevant content and timing.” – Ali Jaffer, Chief Operating Officer, Generation

The Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers Collaboration Framework draws on key principles and concepts outlined in Collective Impact. Collective Impact demonstrates that large-scale social change comes from better cross-sector coordination rather than from the isolated intervention of individual organizations. By prioritizing alignment, positionality, communication, shared values, and intentionality from the outset, the project is set up to create an innovative roadmap for working together. 



The Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers Collaboration Framework clearly outlines best practices and agreed-upon expectations for communication and governance. There is a strong commitment to equity, openness, transparency, and values-based decision-making in all project activities. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are paramount to the success of the project. Foundational agreements clearly outline that Intellectual Property (IP) created within the collaboration belongs to everyone. This commitment is reflected in the foundational agreements and communication practices.

The project’s co-creation and cross-sectoral approaches are deliberate in the desire to dismantle systemic barriers for Indigenous and racialized youth to enter and be supported in roles at small businesses and startups. Indigenous inclusion in the technology sector ensures that Indigenous communities gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects. 

“Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island and globally have been innovating and evolving diverse technologies for thousands of years, often using holistic and creative problem-solving, rigorous experimentation, and resilience testing. Indigenous innovators and models of technology have much to teach the technology sector about more resilient and nature-attuned ways to design and build sustainable and inclusive cities and economies of the future. As one of the fastest-growing communities in Canada, there is a great deal of largely untapped innovation talent and potential among Indigenous Peoples. The creation of culturally relevant and valuable spaces and opportunities for young Indigenous people promises to advance social  wellbeing and transformational change in Indigenous communities and institutions, as well as drive systemic change within Canada’s innovation economy.” - Tanya Chung-Tiam-Fook, Director of Research, Centre for Indigenous Innovation and Technology

By co-creating, publishing, and disseminating collaboration frameworks, impact measurement, and methodologies, the project intends to contribute to the body of knowledge on cross-sectoral collaboration in social innovation for job pathways and strengthen the case for a distributed sense of responsibility across sectors for these types of projects. 

Beyond the skills needed to make a successful transition into the technology sector or other high-growth industries, we hope to learn about the existing skills and education that workers have to identify which skills and competencies are transferable and in-demand. Workers may already have the skills required to enter an in-demand sector but lack the confidence of language in communicating and demonstrating these skills in new applications and hiring practices. We’ve coined this concept ‘skills-language literacy.’ When we refer to ‘skills language literacy’ we mean the ability to understand individual transferable skills in-depth and the competency of communicating the value of these skills to the entry sector. 

Nimble and responsive identification of and movement between areas of high and low demand is a critical test of the ability of labour markets to respond to rapid changes, serving both workers and employers. But so often Future of Work conversations frame the future as something market-driven that workers must prepare themselves for, rather than something we can make choices as a country about the kind of economy and society we want, the skills we will need to build it, and how we will support workers in making those transitions..” – Nisa Malli, Manager Innovative + Inclusive Economy Workstream, Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship

The next phase of the Reskilling Displaced Retail Workers Project will combine community-based participatory research and methods with industry insights and data. The goal will be to identify the skills and competencies of retail workers and assess real and perceived gaps to employment in lower-risk roles with high-growth industries.


Una Lounder Una is a graduate of the MMIE (Master of Management Innovation and Entrepreneurship)...