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Closing the gap between art college and employment

In this Arts and Culture feature we join the launch of GAAP the Guelph Arts Apprenticeship Program that pays local businesses to hire U of G art college grads

Ottawa philanthropist Alan Rottenberg has a soft spot for arts students so in 2018 he started an apprenticeship program to help them find work. 

“I have two sons who were arts students and I watched them and their friends graduate,” said Rottenberg. “Half of them got jobs and started their careers. Half kind of wandered around and couldn’t get their first jobs. I thought, this is insane.”

He joined forces with the faculty of Arts and Science at Queens University and the Kingston Economic Development Corporation to establish the Queen’s Career Apprenticeship Kingston program.

“The program was up and going in 70 days and in the process of doing interviews for the first pilot,” he said. “We are now in year three.  Year one was 10. Year two was 20 and this year the target is 40 graduates.” 

Rottenberg was sure the program could work for other arts colleges. 

“It is a passion project of his and has grown on its success in Kingston,” said Christine Chapman, economic development officer for the City of Guelph. “The Dean of Arts at the University of Guelph, Samantha Brennan, ran into Alan at an event and asked him to come to Guelph and see what we had to offer here.  So here he is.”

The Guelph Arts Apprenticeship Program GAAP is a pilot program managed in partnership with the  University of Guelph and the City of Guelph’s Economic Development Department to create an incentive for local employers to hire U of G graduates straight out of college.  

“Typically it can take a couple of years for a college of arts student to find meaningful employment,” said Chapman. “What he put forward was a funding program that would help pay for four months at up to $4,000 per month to hire a college of arts grad.” 

Several business owners and students attended the program launch at the Cutten Fields Tuesday where Rottenberg talked about the success of the program and Chapman explained the application process.  

“Twenty students have already signed up for the program and there will be more students here,” said Chapman. “We have about 15 businesses already interested as well.” 

Job postings must be submitted to Experience Guelph by Jan 31 and students will have from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14 to apply.

Businesses are required to register on the GAAP site.

The program is available to U of G arts students that graduated in the 2019-2020 academic year. The business will receive a maximum grant of $4,000 per month or a maximum of $16,000 for the first four months of the one-year paid apprenticeship. 

“Employers must be within the boundary of the city of Guelph,” said Chapman. “We are looking for entry level positions that would be of keen interest to students. We are looking for creative tasks for them to do – research, critical thinking, strategy development, those types of things.” 

The program allows both employers and students to see what resources and opportunities are available.  

“We have businesses that need talented people and we have these talented people that need the jobs and then we have reality,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie.  “Yes, this pun is intended. There is a gap between those things and that is the age-old problem. How do you get a job without experience? How do you get experience without a job?" 

That gap will be closed for the 10 applicants that get accepted this year and Rottenberg is confident that number will grow and the program will build on the success of every year going forward. 

“We learned a lot of things and first of all, almost all without exception the graduates are great employees and the employers are thrilled with them as employees,” said Rottenberg. “All are still employed and have been promoted and building their careers. By the end of this spring we will have 60 or 70 young new graduates of Queens building their lives.”

GAAP is intended to give Guelph businesses an edge and encourage U of G grads to stay and build their careers here.

“This program provides a real frontline chance for people,” said Guthrie. “It’s a win-win for employers and for graduates and a huge win for Guelph and that is why I am so excited about it.  I can’t wait to start hearing the stories of success that will be coming out of the program as it continues.”

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