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Goodwill stopped using its eponymous donation boxes about a decade ago. Too old-school.

The focus is now on people, not bins.

The charity requires donors to bring old clothing and household items to its centres, not just for efficiency, but to make contact with employees who are also Goodwill “clients.”

The 80-year-old organization is focussing on skills of the future, and how human skills can position socially disadvantaged youth for a very different world of work.

Hand-outs have given way to hands-on.

I visited Goodwill Ontario last week in London, Ontario with RBC CEO Dave McKay, to see how work-integrated learning can help youth from all backgrounds prepare for a changing economy. Too often when we talk about work-integrated learning, we focus on co-op students moving into the tech sector or apprentices training for major construction projects.

At Goodwill, they’re working with people like Mo, a single mother who is learning and working in the organization’s streetfront cafe, to develop skills for the hospitality sector. Or Alberto, who emigrated from Colombia and is building a green coffee importing business. Or Lela, an indigenous woman who left school in her teens and has since gained the education and skills to be a home care worker.

They call it “the power of work.”

Goodwill Ontario has gone from 300 employees to 700 in about seven years, as it sharpens its focus on training. Across North America, it has 130,000 employees and has built itself up to be a $5.87 billion social enterprise.

Many of those employees don’t have the formal credentials to pass a typical HR screen. Or they’ve never learned how to craft a resume or make eye contact in a job interview.

Most also lack that first job requirement that companies often demand before a candidate gets to first base. It’s the “no experience, no job” dilemma, and a key reason why there are nearly one million Canadian youth not in employment, education or training.

To help youth transition into the workplace, Goodwill’s programs focus on more than technical skills. They aim to develop the cultural fluency of work, through four key values:

  • a willingness to work;
  • a respect for other;
  • a strong sense of self;
  • a life plan.

As Canada develops a skills plan for the 2020s, and the age of automation, we should remind ourselves that work requires more than a skill. Social aptitudes, and resilience, are just as critical.

And work is about more than a paycheque. It’s a form of identity, and belonging. We can’t automate that.