MDB Insight Blog

A Unique Approach to Removing Employment Barriers

A Unique Approach to Removing Employment Barriers

This week our #WednesdayswithMDBinsight post highlights a recent project that stood out for Trudy Parsons, EVP, and brought success to London area participants.

Occasionally, a project stands out as being truly innovative, unique, or particularly successful. The EMPLOY Improv program is a recent example for all these reasons. It was developed in response to the Local Employment Planning Council’s request for innovative approaches to address the needs of individuals not participating in the Greater London Region’s workforce - a growing population experiencing a diverse range of barriers to employment. 

Carol came to the program as a painfully shy unemployed woman whose past work had always been in isolated, administrative support roles. She was a self-described introvert lacking in confidence and caring for an aging parent. Following graduation from the program, Carol started work in a retail environment where she now deals with the public and confidently interacts with customers daily. 

Grant spent more than two decades receiving Ontario Works benefits before enrolling in the program. Surprised to find himself a natural at improv, he gained seasonal employment after graduating and continues the creative writing process he learned as a participant. 

Audra was convinced she was unemployable when the LEPC invited her to participate in the program. She is now working on starting a non-profit organization and continuing her weekly improv training while encouraging youth to discover its benefits. 

(names have been changed but all program and participant details are accurate)

The idea to utilize improv (comedic improvisation) as a skill-building platform for this program was the result of MDB Insight’s partnership with Nancy Watt, a respected trainer and consultant and President at Nancy Watt Communications. Designed to apply the evidence-based benefits of improv training to the acquisition of “soft skills” in support of workforce participation, the EMPLOY Improv program features a 6-week curriculum delivered with a train-the-trainer model of facilitation. Several LEPC employees participated as facilitators during the program, learning both program content and the successful elements of program delivery. A Facilitators’ Guide was also developed along with a final program report for the LEPC.

The graduation rate for this program was an exceptional 100%. Nancy attributes this, in part, to the ensemble nature of improv work and the sense of belonging that participants experienced by virtue of the teamwork inherent in the program’s curriculum. Program evaluation focused on three key metrics – graduates who gained employment, participants who enrolled in a training or re/upskilling program following graduation, and those who sought counselling for additional support as a next step after program completion. In total 82% of program graduates achieved one of these outcomes, far exceeding projected results.

For the LEPC in London, the program opened doors to new and scalable approaches to supporting those experiencing barriers to employment. For program participants, EMPLOY Improv provided both the environment and the skills-building opportunity to successfully tap into their creativity and spontaneity in an unorthodox way. Nancy points out that “many of the required “soft skills” identified over the last several years (see: RBC’s Humans Wanted, Conference Board of Canada, IBM Institute for Business) turned out to be the very same skills needed by participants in order to boost confidence and approach employment in new and less-impeded ways”. 

I am excited about the potential for replicating this successful program and we are exploring opportunities for a variety of different applications. There are challenges associated with bringing such a program to scale, to be sure, but one of the key tenets of an improv mindset is the “yes, and” approach to all situations – yes there are challenges, and we have also seen clear evidence of the benefits and opportunities improv brings to the employment readiness landscape.

To learn more about Trudy and the other members of our team, go to

Trudy 2018-2Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

Related Posts