Featured Contributor: Trudy Parsons
Editor / April 9, 2014
In this edition of our Featured Contributor series, I interviewed Trudy Parsons, Director of Workforce Development at Millier Dickinson Blais. Trudy primarily contributes to our Workforce section, covering a range of topics related to workforce development in her posts.
I had an interesting start to my career in workforce development. While employed with Olivetti Canada I was responsible for helping individuals develop skills and knowledge on what started out as an electronic typewriter and then advanced to word processors! I was recognized for my ability to help individuals understand the concepts and improve their ability to operate these office products. At the time I didn’t consider this workforce development, nor did I ever image that it would lead me to where I am in my career today.
I’ve been involved in this space now for close to 30 years! My career has moved from my Olivetti days to heading a continuing education and then corporate training division in the post-secondary sector. Today I am privileged to lead a national workforce development division where I work with communities and organizations across the country to address workforce challenges.
For our readers who perhaps aren’t as familiar with workforce development, how do you see this field relating to broader economic development?
I’ve been know to say that workforce development and economic development are two sides of the same coin. A community can attract an abundance of new businesses or investments, but if they can’t offer these companies the skilled labour force needed to operate these businesses, they will be hard pressed to retain those companies. In my mind, there is no greater asset to a community than its people.
What has surprised you most about working in workforce development?
The absolute satisfaction it brings to me. While we are all different communities across Canada, we have many of the same challenges when it comes to skills attraction and retention. There are amazing intiatives underway across this country, and in many ways they can be adapted to address local challenges. I am often surprised by the lack of connection within and among communities that share a labour pool. People are not constrained by a community’s boundaries, yet neighbouring communities often do not connect to address a common challenge.
What do you find most challenging about workforce development? And most rewarding?
I find it both challenging and frustrating that Canada does not have a national workforce strategy to guide and influence policy and decision making. We have 10 provinces and three territories and many have placed a significant importance on developing provincial/territorial strategies. Yet, unlike many other countries (Australia, India, UK, etc.), Canada operates without a national framework or strategy.
I am most rewarded when we have had the opportunity to work closely with a community, region, or province to validate a significant challenge area and to collectively create an action plan that will move them forward.
Tell me about someone who has influenced your work?
Very early in my career I had the privilege of working with an individual who always placed people at the centre of everything she did. Her philosophy was that if you give people the tools they needed to succeed they will rise to the challenge. I’ve carried that philosophy forward in my own career and it is what drives me every day to help individuals, organizations and communities to recognize what’s not working and to move forward with solutions that will make a difference.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about getting into the field?
Understand what it is about this work that will motivate you. I live my life loving what I do. It’s that absolute alignment to my passion that drives my creativity to think beyond the norm and develop thought-provoking solutions. This is a growing field and there are plenty of opportunities with numerous career pathways.
What sorts of trends do you see right now?
Workforce development has certainly moved to centre stage over the past number of years. Its importance in the economic development space is being recognized as a significant element in investment attraction, business retention and sustainability. Employers, sectors, and communities are competing for talent and this is forcing a new way of thinking. Companies are examining their pratices and seeking ways to become employers of choice. Technology is certainly driving some of that change as in many occupations people can work from anywhere. So, not only are employers competing with neighbouring companies, but they are competing globally. That competition is only starting to heat up.
What do you think will change about workforce development over the next five to ten years?
I see an increased diversity in the workplace as a result of immigration driving net employment growth. This will influence workplace cultures, and will certainly position businesses to compete in the global marketplace. Technology is changing how work is done and I only see that continuing as new technologies drive productivity, innovation and certainly the types of skills and knowledge that employers will seek in their workforce. Managing the workforce will also change as work-life balance becomes an expected norm, even more so than it is today.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I enjoy a good book, walking by water, and certainly spending family time. I love to travel.