Eyes on Employment: How One Summer Student is Laying the Foundation for Important Research

Several times a week, Andrew Helsdon picks up the phone and calls one of the many employment services providers in the Halton Region. He’s not looking for a job—he’s conducting interviews to learn about each service provider’s scope of work, challenges, and client needs.

As a Project and Research Associate at the Oakville Community Foundation, each interview Andrew conducts helps to lay the foundation for our research project, the Community Ideas Factory. The project, in partnership with Sheridan College, has already looked closely at the issues of housing and food security in Halton, and now our sights are turning towards employment. Andrew has been collecting vital background research in advance of a focus group for clients accessing the services, and later a creative problem solving session for the agencies that will take place in the fall.

Prior to joining The Foundation for the summer, Andrew studied finance and accounting at the Ivey Business School at Western University. He is currently studying law at University of Toronto.

Research isn’t new to Andrew: he worked as a research assistant during his undergrad, and through law school, has had extensive exposure to researching, reading, and asking countless questions in search of the truth. It’s safe to say that his skills and experience aligned well with the opportunity to conduct research as part of the Community Ideas Factory.

Intellectually curious by nature, attempting to solve the complex nature of systemic issues such as unemployment and underemployment is of great interest to Andrew. The project is a challenge, but he’s up to the task. “When we see so much evidence that an issue exists, it’s easy to mistake a symptom for the root cause,” Andrew says. “Once the root problems are identified, tailored solutions can be created to address the issues.”

Having interviewed over 20 employment services providers so far, Andrew has already gleaned some interesting insights from the organizations. “In every single interview, I’ve asked what they believe are the main sources of employment barriers, and while some answers stay consistent, what has been striking is the number of different things that came up,” Andrew says. “It just goes to show that employment is a multifaceted issue and there are many reasons why someone may be unemployed or underemployed. It’s not as simple as someone not having the skills or experience.”

The experience has been eye-opening and positive for Andrew, who has become more confident reaching out to people and asking for help through this process. “People have been very receptive and willing to share information so far. Many have expressed interest in the project, whether it means continuing to be involved through the upcoming focus group or just staying informed of the results so they can better understand the landscape of employment services in Halton Region,” Andrew says.

From The Foundation’s perspective, it’s been a pleasure to have him on board. “Andrew has skillfully worked through some very sensitive and complex materials and interviews.  His work is invaluable in our overall efforts to understand the complex issues identified in our 2015 Vital Signs report, and the continued and extensive research our partners are doing to help us identify fundable solutions for these systemic issues.  It’s been a pleasure to have his assistance on this work as we move into the Fall and new community engagement efforts,” says Sarah McPherson, Director of Communications and Development.

We look forward to learning about the findings of the employment research and hearing about the fundable solutions that will come from the Community Ideas Factory. Although Andrew will be returning to school in the fall, his research contributions will live on.