Now What? Learnings for the future of East Scarborough Works

News Post Picture
Play the audio recording of this blog post

This fall, to reflect on the outcomes, changes, and learnings that have resulted from the collective investment of the East Scarborough Storefront and the other ecosystem players involved in East Scarborough Works over the past five years, The Storefront has published a Learning Report to reflect on this unique approach to workforce development. This post is the third in a series of blogs summarizing key takeaways from the report. 

The previous blog post in this series answered the question, “So What?” In other words, what is the significance of the changes brought about by the collective investment in East Scarborough Works over the last 5 years? We learned that by applying the Connected Community Approach (CCA)to workforce development, deeply embedded systemic barriers can be illuminated and shifted so that: 

  1. Trust can be built between local residents and employment service providers
  2. Residents have more influence over employment systems and processes
  3. Communication about job opportunities to residents is improved
  4. Local residents have a clear line of sight and time to prepare for upcoming job opportunities; 
  5. Employers and service providers can solve problems together
  6. Complicated systemic issues such as racism in the ecosystem can be addressed collectively
  7. Existing training and supports can be made more holistic and comprehensive for jobseekers. 

So now what? Taking what we’ve learned, what is the next phase in building our local workforce development pathways? How will we work together on the key challenges and barriers that still remain to make ESW pathways operational, in a sustainable and scalable way? These are the questions to be explored in this blog post.

Looking back on the 5 years of ESW so far:

  • 2016-2018 was about developing the concept
  • 2019-2022 was about testing the concept
  • 2023 and beyond will be about refining and scaling.

A distinction between CCA and other approaches to community development is that “Embracing the Messiness” is a major key to success. This means that instead of shying away from or trying to eliminate tensions, which are ever-present in complex systems change work, they are embraced and used as opportunities for navigation, asking important questions, and generating emergent solutions and next steps. In the context of ESW, the following tensions offer clear and specific areas of focus for all players in the ecosystem to work on in order to sustain the gains we have collectively made and to continue improving. 

Community Development vs. Service Delivery

As a community backbone organization, the Storefront plays multiple roles in the ESW network and the employment ecosystem overall: 

  • service delivery where we directly work with job seekers to prepare and connect them with employment opportunities; 
  • and community development where we leverage our relationships with partners and stakeholders to facilitate collaboration and resource pooling to improve the employment ecosystem. 

While we play both roles, the success of ESW relies heavily on The Storefront’s backbone role as a network weaver and integrator.  Network weaving involves paying attention to the relationships around you and noticing who’s missing, who’s not being listened to, and helping create healthier, deeper relationships so that you get to know each other and work together.

However, funders are more likely to support service delivery over pathway coordination. This creates challenges & limitations for maintenance and sustainability of The Storefront’s backbone role within ESW.

Place-Based vs. Sector-Based Interests

Meeting sector-specific demands and prioritizing local hiring do not need to be mutually exclusive, we can combine the expertise of sector-based workforce development partners (e.g. construction trades trainers) with our place-based lens (e.g. supporting recruitment in Scarborough and working together with unions and contractors and anchor institutions to place new apprentices on construction builds in Scarborough where possible).

Delivering on Perceived Value

Residents, Jobseekers, Partners, and Institutions, may all decide to engage with ESW for a variety of reasons but there is a shared expectation from everyone that local jobseekers will acquire local employment. While this goal is core to the work of ESW, it may not be accomplished in the expected timeline or path that a local jobseeker might assume. Managing the expectations of residents and job seekers requires open and continuous communication and knowledge sharing so that all players are aware of what to expect and have a clear line of sight to their goal, while they are a part of East Scarborough Works.

Implementing Anti-Racism

While ESW has embedded a strong equity lens and intentional power-sharing practices, it has not always specifically addressed racism and the specific ways that it can impact racialized jobseekers’ ability to navigate their employment journey. Within the context of the racial reckoning of 2020 that shone a light on the longstanding and urgent need to confront anti-Black racism, The Storefront has begun the process of learning and embedding anti-racism into ESW’s design. However, the intentional and specific operationalization of anti-racism into policy and process is required in order to make accountability and evaluation possible. Operationalizing anti-racism in East Scarborough Works involves all partners on the pathway making changes both in their individual organizations/sectors, and together in our collaborative work. This work has begun, and there is also still work to do.

Sahar Vermezyari, Director of East Scarborough Storefront at the 2022 East Scarborough Works Symposium

Institutionalizing Change

Relying on the goodwill of a few specific players within anchor institutions to be open to and implement change is unsustainable. As anchor institutions begin to invest in positions and teams of people with the specific role of making institutions more equitable, it is important that we continue to engage and work with these internal teams. It is important to note that as a small-but-mighty place-based network, ESW can influence anchor institution partners and other partners in traditional positions of power, but cannot change these institutions from outside- the change needs to be embraced and happen internally.

Strengthening the Agency of the Network

The primary roles of the workforce integrator in the ESW model (a role currently held by The Storefront) are network-weaving and facilitation in addition to other backbone functions. However, the integrator can only be effective when all players in the ecosystem feel empowered to own their role in the pathway as well, whether it’s relationship building, operationalizing anti-racist practices, collecting and sharing data, etc. At present, ESW heavily relies on Storefront to be at the centre of every conversation and process. The function and strength of any network is that there is shared leadership, and the ESW network is no different. For the change we seek to become lasting and sustainable, we need to ensure that more players in our network feel empowered to embrace and share leadership in the network, and responsible for doing so.

Resourcing ESW

ESW has been fortunate to have received funding from innovative private funders and one-time government funding, however, the current trend in funding is to support short-term changes over long-term systemic changes. As a result, in order to sustain ESW, anchors and governments will need to begin to resource this work in order to operationalize and scale it.


ESW is a highly relational systems change approach that requires goodwill, resources, and commitment for the long term to be effective. In the example of our construction trades pathway, for example, ESW relies heavily on the commitment of anchor institutions and the commitment of their contractors, subcontractors, and associated unions to change the way they have been doing things. By relying on the goodwill of our partners, The Storefront has little power to hold them accountable and ensure follow-through. Accountability mechanisms need to be co-developed in order to maximize the potential of ESW.

Members of the East Scarborough Works network identifying the roles they will play to establish a more equitable employment ecosystem in East Scarborough.

Data Sharing

Reluctance to share data at the organizational and anchor institutional level unless requested limits the ability of the pathway to make adjustments in real-time. Normalizing processes and mechanisms for freely and regularly sharing data will help to improve the pathways more quickly and efficiently. 

These tensions give us excellent insight into the future of this workforce development initiative, and the sticky issues that remain which we need to problem-solve collectively. We’ve identified a set of next steps for The Storefront as a workforce integrator and our committed partners in the East Scarborough Works network to take, based on these insights:

  • Sharing what we’ve learned: We’re excited to disseminate the insights from our learning report among our local employment ecosystem partners to open up vital conversations about what’s working well, where tensions remain, and ways forward. Reading this blog is a great first step!
  • Problem-solving operational pain points together:  As we move from “testing” the concept of ESW to refining and scaling, a key challenge is problem-solving operational pain points that may currently be barriers to scalability and sustainability. The Storefront can’t do this alone – we’re looking forward to refreshing collective problem-solving processes with committed network players to advance our work in this area.
  • Strengthening accountability: This is a conversation and area of learning we’d like to open up among committed network partners: refreshing everyone’s shared understanding of what each of our roles and responsibilities are in this project, and co-creating accountability mechanisms to help embed this shared understanding. 
  • Operationalizing anti-racism: As we seek to address anti-Black racism in our pathways, we’ve had excellent exploratory conversations and knowledge-gathering- it is time to move to embodied action. This will start with a series of capacity-building workshops in winter 2023 for jobseekers on navigating racism at work; for employers on embedding anti-racist approaches to recruitment and retention; and for a multi-stakeholder network dialogue on racism as a health and safety issue. Stay tuned for details on how to participate!
  • Deep listening to jobseekers: This is a core feature of the ESW initiative that we will continue to lean into, refining tracking and storytelling of the experiences of jobseekers on the pathway to inform strategy and design of ESW moving forward.

Now that we have shared the lessons and next steps of East Scarborough Works, we hope that those of you who have been along with us in this journey and those who have just begun to engage can see the full potential of East Scarborough Works for addressing barriers to workforce development in our communities. The more that all players in the ESW ecosystem continue to deepen their understanding of their role and buy into a Connected Community Approach to workforce development, the more the impact of this approach will be felt by all members of the community. If you are part of the East Scarborough employment landscape, whether as a service provider, an employer, a trainer, a union, a funder, or a jobseeker, connecting and coordinating with each other is the first step in addressing fragmentation and forging a stronger community ecosystem. Here are some actions that you can take right now to help make it even easier for more local jobseekers to find smooth, aligned pathways to decent local jobs in East Scarborough. Systems change involves us all! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *