Students studying together
U of G students acquire many skills that are transferable to the job market. They need a hand connecting with employers.

Giving recent College of Arts grads a kick-start on careers within the community is the aim of a new philanthropist-funded University of Guelph apprenticeship program set to launch in January.

The Guelph Arts Apprenticeship Program (GAAP) is a partnership among the University, the City of Guelph, local businesses and donor Alan Rottenberg. He will provide a career-building incentive for 10 grads initially by funding salaries for the first four months of their one-year apprenticeships.

“Our College of Arts grads tend to do very well, but there is a significant gap for a lot of them when they graduate university and find their first meaningful role,” said Cory Hector, the college’s experiential learning partnership developer. “We’re looking at cutting down on that time.”

The program is based on a successful model spearheaded by Rottenberg at Queen’s University and the City of Kingston two years ago.

Rottenberg has served as a senior executive and board member with a variety of successful software companies. He saw first-hand the employment obstacles faced by grads when his sons and their friends struggled to find jobs after completing arts programs.

He said employers are often reluctant to take a chance on new grads, despite those prospects’ talents.

“Employers were looking for people with three years of experience,” he said. “Clearly you can’t have three years of experience if you just graduated.”

The program gives grads job readiness skills while connecting them with employers who are eager to hire young talent. It also helps grads recognize how the skills they learned in university may transfer to the job market. Learn more about the program here.

Through its Invest in Guelph program, the City of Guelph will identify companies willing to participate in the program. An employer agrees to pay a salary for eight months of the initial year, as well as providing training and mentoring.

City officials see the program as highly attractive for local employers and as a way to boost the work experience of recent grads.

Late afternoon crowd scene on campus
Many U of G arts students experience a gap period between graduation and landing a good job.

“GAAP makes recent graduates more enticing to employers by reducing the financial risk in bringing on a new entry-level employee and, in turn, provides the graduate with work experience improving their future employability,” said Christine Chapman, economic development officer for the City of Guelph. “It is a win-win that we hope local employers will pick up on.”

Invest in Guelph represents the business development outcomes identified in the city’s economic development strategy, called Prosperity 2020. The program aims to position and promote Guelph as an ideal place to do business. Prospective businesses receive numerous resources, including confidential business investment services, information and data resources, and expedited and streamlined development approval processes to reduce investment risk and save time.

Samantha Brennan, dean of the College of Arts, said U of G arts grads bring a broad range of skills and knowledge to their work. Over time, they end up pursuing a wide array of careers and earn a good salary.

Brennan learned about the program through connections at Queen’s University and decided to bring it to Guelph.

“We want to prepare the students a bit better for the job market, helping them with things like CV writing, thinking about the skills they’ve acquired and how those match the type of things employers are looking for. We also want to give local employers incentive to hire our graduates.”

All new College of Arts grads can apply for the program.

Hector said the Queen’s University experience shows that available jobs may fall outside what an arts grad normally considers as a career. But they are rewarding positions — communications and event assistant, administrative project assistant, client services and sales administrator — for which those grads are well prepared to excel.

Rottenberg believes in apprenticeships as a way to launch careers.

“It really works well for both the company and the employee,” he said. “The employer gets a bright young person who is very motivated and very valuable to the company. With the Queen’s program, most employees stay on with the company after the first year is complete.”

Retaining young talent is a problem for smaller Ontario cities, with many recent hires moving to Toronto for employment opportunities, Rottenberg added.

“We need to keep young people in these centres and we need to get them jobs when they come out of university so they can start building their lives and contributing.”