Making Space to Learn from Each Other: A Youth-Focused Community of Practice for Career Development Professionals

Oct 22, 2022 | #WelcomingSpaces, #YouthEngagement

by Joel Murphy and Templeton Sawyer |

On September 1, 2021, we launched a Youth-Focused Community of Practice (YF-CoP) for career development professionals in Nova Scotia—a collaboration between TEAM Work Cooperative and the Centre for Employment Innovation. The idea for the YF-CoP emerged out of conversations that each of our organizations were having with employment and career service providers across Nova Scotia, through which we identified a common desire to better support young people who are close to or ready to enter the workforce by helping them access useful, supportive, and meaningful employment services.  

We know that today’s youth are facing a diverse set of challenges when it comes to career development, and that there are several factors influencing their experience which are unique to our current context. With the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the climate crisis, barriers in accessing education, workforce automation, influence of technology, financial stress, unstable world economies, and increased workforce competitiveness, youth and those supporting their entering the workforce face complex and dynamic realities. These unique dynamics are why it is important to have a community of practice specific for people working with young people. 

We also know that the needs and challenges faced by youth differ from adults seeking employment support. The complexity of the life stage of young adulthood requires increased intentionality and creativity to best support individuals through employment services and interventions. As such, the needs and demands of career and employment service providers serving youth are as dynamic as the unique geographies, communities, and youth they are serving. Career and employment service professionals supporting youth may also experience isolation from their co-workers who are not working directly with youth and may struggle to adapt career service activities designed for adults to the changing needs of young adults. 

Knowing all of this, it seemed like a space for career and employment service professionals to come together and share their learnings, challenges, and brainstorm solutions would benefit all of us, and help us better support youth in our work. 

What is a community of practice? “A group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals. Communities of practice often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice. Interaction on an ongoing basis is an important part of this.” (  

Looking to the research, the benefits that come from such a space (and which we were hoping to achieve) are more than clear. Communities of Practice are intended to:  

    • Connect people: Help connect youth-focused career service professionals who might not otherwise interact, either as frequently or at all. 
    • Provide a co-learning space: Support youth-focused career service professionals to communicate and share information, stories, and personal experiences to help build understanding and insights. 
    • Support dialogue & learning: Between youth-focused career service professionals who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities. 
    • Capture and share existing knowledge & resources: Help youth-focused career service professionals improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate emerging best practices. 
    • Encourage collaboration: Between groups and organizations as well as to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information. 
    • Help people organize and mobilize: Support purposeful actions that deliver tangible results. 
    • Generate innovation: Help youth-focused career service professionals transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs of communities, emerging best practices, and new technologies. [Cambridge, D. and Suter, V. (2005). Community of Practice design guide: A step-by-step guide for designing & cultivating communities of practice in Higher Education. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI).] 

These benefits were a big motivation in launching our own CoP, and since our first meeting in early September, we’ve witnessed a number of these benefits firsthand.  

In order to support diverse voices and organizational values, we decided to run the YF-CoP as a partnership between the Centre for Employment Innovation (CEI) and TEAM Work Cooperative. The group, made up of individuals involved in offering employment services and interventions specifically for young people entering the workforce (including people involved in youth-focused service delivery, research, policy development, program development, etc.), meets monthly for an hour and a half over Zoom. Each month centres different content and activities (such as panels or presentations), but most of our time together is spent in small groups discussing topics identified by participants.  

This small-group approach is very intentional, because we want to ensure that we highlight the value of the group’s collective expertise. Small group discussion also supports the debrief of presented content, and helps participants conceptualize how to meaningfully apply their learnings. There are more than twenty organizations across Nova Scotia represented within the YF-CoP, all with different funding sources and priorities, so, while not all content is always directly applicable to every participant’s work, aspects are. We’ve found that small group discussions can help facilitate that ‘contextualizing’ work, as well as support networking across different organizations. Perhaps most notably, this approach has also led to different members of the CoP leading the monthly gatherings, which further elevates different voices and emphasizes the benefit of learning from each other, collectively. 

In September, we had a panel of young people who had participated in a workforce attachment program share their experience and highlight elements that were meaningful and supportive to them. In November we focused on supporting connection in regional groups putting people into small groups based on their geographic location in Nova Scotia to share about what they are doing and to potentially identify opportunities for partnership. We ended 2021 with another youth panel focusing on how adults can create spaces where young people feel safe and want to be. Finally, in March 2022, we had a great gathering led by two members of the community who shared their expertise around supporting young people to disclose to their employer about their mental health or disabilities at work. This was a rich session! 

As demonstrated by some of those examples, something else we learned very early on was the importance of including young people in the YF-CoP. The involvement and elevation of youth voice was highlighted by a number of participants in our initial meeting, and quickly adopted as a key value of the group and an important factor to keeping true to the YF-CoP’s mission. So far, we’ve hosted two youth panels in our space, through which youth shared their experiences and offered insights to the larger group. From these youth panels, we were also able to identify relevant topics that informed future meeting content—drawn directly from youth experience. 


From the Participants… 

“I think a key learning has been the diverse number of groups that represent youth. … You know that there are youth programs that exist, but I think getting down into the nitty-gritty of what that looks like and who that is has been helpful. I’ve built some partnerships that I otherwise would not have been able to.” – Kelly Henderson, Executive Director of the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council Atlantic

“It’s really great to have reminders from first voice speakers like the youth that have spoken … it just helps kind of recenter and ground me and my work with the youth, and just bring me back to the fact that the youth are the focus, and to really try to meet youth where they’re at and meet their individual needs.” – Janelle Duguay, Senior Employment Practitioner at Phoenix Learning & Employment Centre

“It reminded me how much I’ve grown, but also how I felt when I first entered the workforce. … When I got my first adult job, there was so much to learn, and I feel like I’ve like kind of put that behind me. … To put myself back in that space, there’s so much learning to do.” – Maggie Morden, Employment Support Practitioner at TEAM Work Cooperative

Some of the most significant benefits of YF-CoP are the connections and relationships that can be built by bringing people together. These relationships can help on a professional level, in terms of sharing resources (which happens often), or simply on a personal level of feeling supported and less isolated. Isolation has been a challenge for many during Covid-19, and the YF-CoP began at an optimal time to better help people from across NS not feel alone. 


Interested in Joining the Nova Scotian Youth-Focused Community of Practice for career development professionals? 

If you are a career development professional or are involved or interested in employment services (including those involved with service delivery & interventions, research, policy development, program development, etc.), you are welcome to join this CoP! 

The CoP happens monthly and is facilitated by CEI & TEAM Work staff via Zoom.  

Interested individuals can fill in this form: 

For have further questions, please contact Joel Murphy at or Templeton Sawyer at We’ll be sure to follow up with you individually and keep you up to date on future convenings. 

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

CEI Impact and Innovation Coordinator


Joel Murphy is the Impact and Innovation Coordinator at the Centre for Employment Innovation (CEI), where his work focuses on impact measurement, knowledge mobilization, and youth engagement. Joel is currently working toward his Ph.D. in Educational Studies at Acadia University, where his areas of research are experiential education, community engagement, youth development, and youth career development.

Templeton Sawyer

Templeton Sawyer

Teamwork Cooperative, Employment Support Practitioner


Templeton Sawyer is an Employment Support Practitioner with Teamwork Cooperative, the host of Tweet the Leader in You podcast, and a passionate Youth Advocate who seeks to help youth in both Nova Scotia and the Bahamas believe in themselves and increase their self-confidence through leadership and skill development programs. Templeton is currently completing a BA in Business Marketing and Nonprofit leadership at MSVU.