Our chat with Phil Jarvis: Military Captain with a passion for helping students

In the past three years, I have made many phone calls to many leaders. The one that I still can’t get out of my head is the one that introduced me to Mr. Phil Jarvis. As the phone rang, my thoughts were solely focused on the sheer intimidation factor that comes with Mr. Jarvis’ resume. A man of such reverence is bound to lead the type of conversation that shakes you to your core. Then, Phil picked up the call. No intimidation. No arrogance. No mansplaining. Just a man, with a vision, trying to figure out how to implement it. For the months that followed, I realized that this version of Phil was not hard to maintain, because that is who he truly was. His openness to advice is unparalleled, his willingness to learn inspiring, his sheer will is eye-opening.


When Phil talks about Transitions Coalition Canada, his most recent project, you listen. Not because of his demeanor, but because of his passion. It is the type of Organization that has the potential to change the way we prepare our youth for the most uncertain of times. Its vision is to act as the central body supporting and implementing proof-of-concept projects across Canada, with the simple mission of better preparing Canadian students for life and careers. For more information on this Organization, please visit their website here.


The following interview presents some of the views shared by Mr. Phil Jarvis. The content in this Interview are to be taken as a paraphrasing, and not a direct quote from Mr. Jarvis. For specific quotes, or to present this material in other forums, please contact us.


Q1. Phil, let’s start with you first. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got yourself involved in the business of helping students be better prepared for life.


I was born 3 months before WW2 ended and graduated high school with Canadian troops in Korea and the U.S. engaged in the Vietnam War. The military seemed a noble profession, so I applied and was accepted into the Canadian Military Colleges. After three years at le College Militaire Royal in St. Jean, Quebec and two years at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario I proudly graduated as a Commissioned Officer. I rose to the rank of Captain before leaving the Canadian Forces to join the Federal Government. As I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to be, despite having grown up, I joined the Occupational and Career Analysis Branch of Employment and Immigration Canada in Ottawa, reasoning it would be a good place to explore future career possibilities.

Ironically, an early assignment at EIC was to create a computer-based career exploration and planning system to help students and unemployed adults across Canada explore their career options. The system we created, CHOICES, was eventually adopted by almost every secondary and postsecondary school in Canada and thousands more in the United States and beyond. It seemed my ‘calling’ in career development had found me. Even better, Denise Lavoie, a CHOICES team star, and I found each other, and we’ve been married for 37 years.

From CHOICES l learned that when you engage good people from across Canada at the idea stage onward in any initiative, and genuinely listen to their ideas, you simply can’t go wrong. Since CHOICES, I have championed several pan-Canadian initiatives that have helped literally millions of young Canadians first imagine, then begin building the future they want.


Q2. The latest announcements from the Federal Government has many individuals thinking that the present is the most exciting time for training and career development in Canada. From your perspective, what would you say is the biggest opportunity you and your peers have this year? What about the biggest warning? Where do we need to take special care in how we proceed?


This federal government is committed to skills, innovation, and youth employment to an extent I haven’t seen in a long time. Immediately appointing himself Youth Minister and creating a PM’s Youth Council were clear signals of one of Prime Minister Trudeau’s highest priorities. This government has created vastly more internship prospects for Canadian youth in all federal departments and agencies, so they can acquire the ‘real-world’ experience and skills that employers consider lacking in many graduates. The Future Skills Council and Centre represent a massive new long-term investment in skills development for youth and upskilling of adults. The new Labour Market Information Council, Canada Service Corps, and Youth Employment Strategy will redefine the landscape of career and workforce development in Canada for years to come. Leaders in the Canadian Council for Career Development have been engaged in the planning and execution of all of these initiatives.

As excited as I am with these developments for postsecondary students and adults, I’d like to far see more focus on K-12 education. All future adults in Canada are obliged to learn, to a greater or lesser degree, age-based, prescribed curricula designed to prepare them for their next level of education. It is assumed that when they have passed the requisite number of courses and exams they’ll be ready to take on life as an adult. Indeed, a few will be equipped to take on life as a teacher, but most haven’t really been prepared for other options, or for adult life in general.

Projects I have lead have been adopted nationally in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, and other countries. In my experience, it is actually easier getting things done there because, unlike Canada, they have national departments of education which can endorse and even provide seed funding for promising national initiatives.

There are no new pan-Canadian initiatives for K-12 education because, despite vehicles for periodic dialogue (CMEC, conferences), there is no vehicle for pan-Canadian collaboration at this level. The federal government respects the exclusive jurisdiction of each province and territory over public education. Provinces, territories, and school districts operate largely as islands with occasional ferries but no bridges between them. Educators who have been taught by older educators decide what students need to know. Parents who did well in school volunteer for district council positions and, with teachers unions, resist change.

K-12 education needs major re-thinking. The majority of students are emotionally disengaged in academics by the time they reach high school. They simply don’t perceive personal relevance in the learning prescribed for them. Most will graduate with no clear sense of career direction but they are encouraged to immediately commit to post-secondary programs that will cost them years of their lives and, for most, long-term debt. Many will graduate with no clearer sense of where they can find a good job with an organization that is aligned with their skills, aspirations, and values.


Q3. Shifting our conversation to the idea of “Future Skills” and the “Future of Work”, are you of the perspective that robotics, AI, and the overall technological disruption will have a negative impact, or that Canadians will adapt and grow because of it?

Canadians of all ages and in all fields of endeavour must adapt to technological disruption to thrive, as humans have throughout the ages. The pace of change is accelerating but those who can ‘surf the waves’ of change have an amazing future ahead of them. Those who want to cling to what was won’t fare as well. That’s why we need to use the precious 12 years of public education to help all students discover their unique strengths, expand the creativity that is their birthrite (not extinguish it), decide what their causes are and how they want to make the world better, develop an entrepreneurial mindset (many of the world’s leading entrepreneurs were dropouts), and learn everything they need to know, including relevant technology, to pursue their dreams.


Q4. Tell us a little bit about Transitions Canada Coalition. What inspired you to start such an incredible initiative?

The Transitions Canada Coalition (www.tcc-ctc.org) is what has been the missing vehicle (mentioned above) to enable collaboration among K-12 education ecosystem stakeholders. It is a registered not-for-profit because it mission is to foster authentic partnerships between jurisdictions to bring badly needed innovations to as many students, teachers, parents, and community partners as possible across Canada, not to make shareholders wealthy. Transitions Canada depends on the convening authority and funding of the federal government to take on projects that the provinces, territories, and their partners agree to work on together. It’s a coalition of the willing in which the federal government is stepping on no jurisdictional toes.

First, we identify proven game-changing initiatives wherever they may be happening in Canada. Then we convene a Pan-Canadian Advisory Group (P-CAG) of educational, business, youth and other experts from across the country to agree on enhancements to make the initiative even more impactful across multiple jurisdictions. When the improvements have been made partners organize concurrent pilots, in English and French. Objective, third-party evaluations of the pilots yield feedback the P-CAG uses to agree on further enhancements. When complete, the final product is made available, with training and ongoing support, at minimal cost to any K-12 educational institution.

Amazing people are leading inspired initiatives in most Canadian communities, but few will find their way beyond their community. When administrations change, funding cycles sunset, or the champion moves on, most fade and die. The goal of Transitions Canada is to identify true winners then bring best minds together from across Canada to improve them and scale them nationally.

The first two Transitions Canada projects are PowerPlay Young Entrepreneurs and Transitions Magazine. Details can be found at www.tcc-ctc.org.


Q5. If there is one thing that you hope Transitions Canada Coalition could achieve, what would that be?

I want Transitions Canada to transform the way we prepare K-12 students for adult careers and lives, one spectacularly successful project at a time!


Q6. Students today are facing a very uncertain future, both technologically and otherwise. If you had the attention of all Canadian students in Canada, what would you tell them? What would your advice be?

Don’t sweat the answer to the question, “What will you be when you grow up?”. Odds are the people asking you didn’t have a clue at your age.

What you need to focus on is really getting to know you. What are your unique strengths? What is your purpose? What causes do you care about? Is it the environment and climate change? Plastics in the ocean? Homeless people or animals? Curing cancer? Discovering worlds beyond earth? How do you want to use your gifts to make the world better? Talk to your parents, siblings and friends. They can be a big help but remember it’s your life, your cause, and your decision, not theirs.


Don’t sweat the answer to the question, “What will you be when you grow up?”.


When you identify a cause that really speaks to your heart, try to find organizations and people addressing that cause in some way now. Reach out and talk to them about what gives meaning and purpose to their lives, where they got the education, training and experience to qualify, and what they see ahead. Ask what you can do now to make a difference. You can start making the world better right now. In fact, the world needs you to!

Your causes may change as you get to know yourself and the world better, but if you keep your compass set on a cause you could dedicate your life too, you’re well on your way to a future of work you’ll love to get out of bed for every morning.


Q7. Lastly, and amongst my favorite questions, if you could give any advice to 21-year-old Phil, what would that be?

Dance, just dance! Don’t let consciousness inhibit you. Know your mind and don’t be afraid to speak it, calmly and respectfully. Make a difference in the world, but beware of letting career crusades take precedence over family and loved ones. Master financial management to avoid unnecessary stress lifelong. Always remember no matter how good or bad things seem, they will change. Keep believing in yourself. Don’t accept no if you know it’s the wrong answer. Find another way to yes. Your life and career will go by faster than you can imagine. Your children will grow up in a flash. Savour the sweet moments. Be there. As you look back on your life decades from now you won’t be wishing you had worked more. You’ll be wishing you had invested even more of yourself in the precious people in your life.

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