Actua in Conversation with Jennifer Leaman, Finning

January 12, 2023

Exposing youth to STEM to mend the skills and labour shortage.

Last month, Jennifer Flanagan, founder and CEO of Actua, sat down with Jennifer Leaman, Talent, Learning and Development Director at one of our supporting organizations, Finning. Finning is the world’s largest Caterpillar dealer providing equipment, parts and services to customers in various industries, including mining, construction, forestry and a wide range of power systems applications. Actua has been fortunate to have had Finning as its largest funder of STEM programming in western Canada since 2017. They support our STEM outreach programs in communities across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and Northwest Territories. 

Together, Jennifer Flanagan and Jennifer Leaman discussed the increasing skills gap and labour shortage within the skilled trades and how STEM education, especially among underrepresented groups, could play a critical role in mending these gaps.

Watch or listen to their conversation and see our list of key takeaways below:

In Conversation with Finning

Jennifer Flanagan and Jennifer Leaman's discuss how STEM education can mend the increasing skills gap and labour shortage.

Audio File

Key Takeaways

Career exposure helps youth overcome self-doubt and build confidence.

In a recent op-ed, Finning and Actua highlighted that there are nearly a million unfilled jobs in Canada—many of which are in the skilled trades. This gap is creating pressures for companies as they look to recruit talent. Beyond the skilled trades, numerous other STEM careers are in high demand and expected to grow, including technicians, programmers, developers and engineers.

To help mend this gap, Finning has partnered with secondary and post-secondary schools to develop various skill-building and career exploration opportunities for youth. Finning recognizes that the labour and skills gap will continue to grow if there aren’t enough people entering the industry. Over the years, they’ve invested in helping youth better understand the different careers available in the skilled trades and have witnessed the most significant impact among underrepresented youth. For example, they often see young girls say, “I will never try this,” when being introduced to jobs in the skills trade, but with some encouragement, their outlook quickly changes to “oh wait, I can do this.” Finning shares Actua’s belief youth are more likely to pursue STEM education and careers if they can feel a sense of belonging and can see others who look like themselves in these fields.

Kindness is a critical skill. 

Technical skills are critical at Finning, especially as they move into autonomous and electrical vehicles. However, in addition to these technical skills, their employees must remain resilient in the face of change. They need to adapt quickly and remain agile. They need to know how to apply what they know to something new or something they’ve never experienced before. And above all else, they must know how to be kind and collaborate with people fairly and respectfully. These human skills are only becoming more and more important as technology advances. 

Hiring for diversity is not enough. We need inclusive cultures. 

Finning believes you can hire as many diverse candidates as you want, but ultimately if you don’t have an inclusive culture, these candidates will not stay. For this reason, Finning has established global and regional inclusion councils where employees talk about equity, diversity and inclusion issues and identify growth opportunities. In the last year and a half, they’ve also advanced their employee resource groups designed to build community and connection among underrepresented groups. Each group has an executive sponsor who advocates on the group’s behalf among other senior executives. Finning also partners with non-profit and community-based organizations, such as Actua, Women’s Building Futures, an Indigenous group in BC, to offer co-op opportunities for students to come in to experience what it’s like to be an apprentice at Finning. 

Opportunities like Finning’s ThinkBIG Apprenticeship can help youth jumpstart their career. 

One of Finning’s flagship programs is called ThinkBIG. The program is an excellent opportunity for someone graduating from secondary school interested in heavy equipment technician to explore careers at Finning. They hire students who complete a 4-year apprenticeship in two years. Participants learn advanced technical knowledge, develop skills through hands-on learning, and divide their time between on-campus learning and an eight-week, fully-paid practicum where they get to travel around and experience various roles within Finning in different locations. They then finish as a 2nd-year apprentice and get to start a well-paid, well-respected career.