Foregrounding First-Voice: The CEI’s Youth Advisory Group

Oct 22, 2022 | #YouthEngagement, #YouthVoice

by Addy Strickland |

When I first started the process of developing the Youth Engagement Framework (YEF), I knew I needed to approach it in a way that would very intentionally place youth voices at the forefront. Even though the YEF is aimed at an audience of employers, organizations, and service providers (OES), those most impacted by its recommendations will be young people—any changes made as a result of the information on this website will be part of an effort to better support youth.  

Reaching out to every eighteen-to-thirty-four-year-old who could potentially be impacted by the framework would be an impossible task. There are only so many ways to ask someone to complete a survey or sign up for an interview—and in all honesty, those methods, while useful, didn’t seem like enough. I wanted young people to contribute in a way that would give them some ownership, and more space to say whatever they wanted to about youth engagement, with the guarantee that someone would listen. I wanted critical, ongoing conversation with primary stakeholders. And so, in September 2021, the CEI opened applications for a Youth Advisory Group (YAG). Applications closed a few weeks later, and from a group of more than thirty applicants, we invited thirteen youth – representing various regions of our province and an array of ages and identities – to consult on and contribute to the YEF. Our numbers would drop to ten as time went on due to various personal circumstances, but nevertheless, the group of young people we brought on board were excited and ready to have their voices heard. 

A screenshot of the CEI Youth Advisory Group's first meeting on Zoom.

Intentions & Processes 

The intention behind the YAG was to have youth working directly with CEI staff to provide perspectives, input, and support for the ongoing development of the YEF, and help us work to ensure that the framework aligned with the experiences and hopes of young people. One of the most important things I wanted to build into the group was co-ownership—so that the youth involved felt like it was their space, and that while there were some parameters to the work we were doing, that they could have an influence on the direction it took. There are a lot of factors that have gone into building that sense of co-ownership over the course of nine months, but starting with the lower hanging fruit, some ways I tried to do that right off the bat were: 

Collectively setting our terms of reference. Once all the members accepted their invitations, we reviewed a draft terms of reference document as a group — I’d already added all the basics, like that they would meet every other month until July 2022 — but they had a chance to revise the community guidelines and expectations. 

Scheduling meetings as a group. One item in our terms of reference is that members would get at least two weeks’ notice of any meeting, and that I would do my best to make sure the meetings worked for as many people as possible. How we ended up meeting those two terms is that about a month ahead, I would send out a When2Meet link, members would input their schedules, and we’d pick the day and time that worked for the majority. As a result of that, our meetings have ended up happening after work hours, usually starting at around 5:30 or 6. Now typically, doing work outside of work hours is frowned upon—but in this case, where almost all our members were students or working full time during the day, it worked really well. After hours was the option that allowed for the most engagement and was most considerate of the typical youth schedule. That’s not to say that working with youth has to happen in the evenings—but being considerate of youths’ schedules will only help engagement. 

Co-designing agendas. In our first meeting, we discussed what each member wanted to get out of the experience. I took all of those hopes and dreams into consideration when planning our agendas, and for meetings where we had some more flexibility, the members either voted on what they wanted to cover or suggested their own discussion topics. Through this approach, members were able to see their own interests reflected in our collective work. In our first meeting, we jumped right in by defining youth engagement, asking: what does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it sound like? We brainstormed what we thought should be part of a Youth Engagement Framework and talked about how we might collectively work to bring some of those things to life. In the meetings that followed, we talked about youth-adult partnership, welcoming work environments, mental health, the future of work—all issues impacting youth that the YAG members identified as important. 

Fairly compensating youths’ work. Recognizing the significant ask of time and energy that joining the YAG would require, we also wanted to ensure that the youth we brought onboard would be adequately compensated for their work. Prior to opening applications, we made sure that we had the budget to pay each youth an honorarium for their time that exceeded the living wage for Nova Scotia based on our estimate of how many hours they’d be asked to commit, which came out to about $25 per hour. All the members indicated on our mid-point feedback survey that they were very happy with the way the honoraria were set up, and that they thought they were being fairly compensated. On our end, the honorarium was a simple way to ensure that their contributions felt valued.  


Asset-Mapping & Action Planning 

The broader conversations we had as a group have informed all aspects of this framework—but I wanted to ensure that each of the members’ voices were also highlighted individually, and that their work and experiences were celebrated to the degree they deserved to be. And so, halfway through the YAG’s term, at our third meeting, I asked each member to come prepared with a list of ideas—projects they were passionate about, that they’d love to work on, and that made connections between their own interests and the contents of the framework.  

We started with a worksheet centered around three simple questions:  

  1. Which of the framework themes do you feel the most drawn to? Why? 
  2. What are you knowledgeable about in relation to the framework themes? 
  3. How do you like to create? What are your mediums of choice?

Early on in our meetings, members also completed a personal asset map, which was intended to support them in this action planning strategy. While they don’t seem like much, these questions and activities get to the core of what’s needed to jump into a project: passion, knowledge, and skills.  

From there, YAG members came up with three ideas—combining their answers to those three questions into concrete possibilities, which we compiled together. Each person identified their top choices, and self-divided into groups based on what they wanted to work on—this helped us to avoid duplicate projects, and led to a number of co-created pieces. For each project, they then completed a second worksheet focused on outlining their projects and the intentions behind them—thinking about what they wanted employers to take away, and what they’d need to do to get there.  

Striking a Balance of Support 

Once each of the projects were outlined, it was my task to figure out how much support each member needed to complete them, trying to strike a balance between allowing them the space to be autonomous yet offering tools and support to make the process easier, and keep everyone on track. After moving past the planning stage, I met with each member to provide some initial feedback on their outlines, and then we used our next meeting for the members to offer each other peer feedback. We then completed another round of review together post-peer-feedback before they presented their finished projects to the rest of the group.  

I was worried that all the worksheets and check ins I was putting forward would be too much, but the outcome proved those worries wrong. Our anonymous mid-point and final feedback surveys let me know that the amount of support offered was “just right,” and the members’ finished projects (which you can browse below) are proof of that. They created posters arguing for youth inclusion in the workforce and offering advice on how to support transgender youth employees; designed infographics on trauma-informed workplaces and supporting employees with autism; wrote about personal experiences with professional development, tokenism, and inclusive dress codes; interviewed youth business leaders, and more. Those projects are, in my opinion, some of the most valuable pieces you’ll find in this framework! 


Key Take Aways 

In July 2022, the Youth Advisory Group gathered for the last meeting of their term.   

“I learned that my voice and other youth voices matter. That even through differences we can work together to create positive and meaningful change to help guide employers do the same.” (YAG Member)

“I feel like I am more aware of issues within the workplace. My thoughts are not just complaints about working and the workforce, they are valid, and others experience similar things as well. I am reassured that small actions across all fields are taking place to better the workplace and help bridge any gaps in the partnerships of employers to employees or even youth to adults.” (YAG Member)

While we had hoped to meet in-person, Covid-19 foiled our plans. However, we made the most of one last online meeting with a review session for two draft framework pieces, some final project presentations, a collective art activity, and a final group reflection. Thinking back on their nine-month term, participants spoke about how being part of this group made them feel as if their voices mattered; they spoke about learnings they took away from their conversations with others, about tokenism, and about the systems we work in; they reflected on how their own views of youth engagement were pushed to grow and evolve throughout their time together, as their eyes were opened to other perspectives. 

As a facilitator, hearing the groups’ takeaways was a great reassurance that I’d done something right—that the approaches described above succeeded in creating an environment that allowed their voices to shine, while still offering the support they needed to feel confident and comfortable in our shared space. There are definitely things I’d change next time around as well, based on group feedback—having a slightly larger number of folks, avoiding hosting meetings during the summer months, giving ourselves more chances to meet in-person… Overall, I think the experience was overwhelmingly positive for all involved. If you’re thinking about forming a youth advisory group within your organization, I can’t recommend it enough, and I hope that this blog will be helpful to you on your journey! 

Addy Strickland

Addy Strickland

Youth Engagement Specialist


Addy Strickland is the lead researcher and writer of the CEI’s Youth Engagement Framework. Addy joined the CEI team in July 2021 with more than 10 years of experience in youth-led spaces. She adopts a story-based, first-voice approach to youth engagement, and is working to foster welcoming, youth-friendly spaces both within the CEI and the field of career and employment development more broadly. Prior to working for the CEI, Addy graduated from StFX University with an Honours degree in Development Studies, where she focused on using art and story as tools for community development and social change.