Innovation in Action – Engaging the Next Generation of Talent with Financial Services


Posted by TFI on November 30, 2018

Source: TFI Newsletter November 2018 Edition 

Work-integrated learning (WIL) – an unfamiliar phrase to most of us, is a term meant to modernize and broaden the definition of student work experience beyond traditional examples such as co-ops and internships. Given its potential to positively impact the level of work readiness and employability among our student population across Canada, it’s no wonder that the concept of WIL is growing in popularity among post-secondary educators, employer talent acquisition teams and government officials alike.  In fact, governments at all levels are proactively investing in WIL, to support students’ transition to the workplace.  One example of this progressive support is the federal government’s $2M+ investment earlier this year in expanding ASPIRE, a sector-wide, student WIL initiative led by Toronto Finance International.  ASPIRE’s goal is the creation of 10,000 new WIL opportunities in financial services by the end of 2020. 

Unlike other WIL programs across the country, ASPIRE does not encourage the creation of more WIL opportunities using wage subsidy incentives.  This has provided us with the flexibility to design initiatives within ASPIRE that meet the needs of our program participants in unique and innovative ways, and to help us to achieve our program goals.  One such initiative is The ASPIRE Challenge, a new WIL opportunity created in partnership with students, employers and schools, specifically for 2nd year undergraduate students.   

An opportunity for students to begin building their professional networks

Why 2nd year students?  It was identified early in discussions that targeting 2nd year undergraduate students would support employers to address gaps in their talent pipelines; encourage students to engage with their career centres earlier (a key concern for post-secondary educators); and provide an opportunity for students to begin building their professional networks, a priority for high-performing students.

Financial Services employers highlighted the need to attract innovative thinkers to a sector that has, traditionally, been seen as conservative, even unimaginative.  A new WIL opportunity would need to not only provide students with a great developmental opportunity, but also act as a branding tool, showcasing innovation in the sector.

TFI launched The ASPIRE Challenge to 2nd year post-secondary students on October 15th 2018. It is a competitive, industry-led innovation challenge with meaningful employer interaction and feedback built into every stage, providing all participants with a WIL experience, and significantly increasing the number of WIL opportunities available to students, in general.

One hundred applicants are selected to present their solution to an employer panel

The ASPIRE Challenge asks students to develop an innovative solution for a problem they’ve identified in their respective communities, and to discuss it with a relevant employer. Support resources are provided through ASPIRE, and every applicant receives personalized feedback on both their solution and resume (which they are invited to submit as well). One hundred applicants are selected to present their solution to an employer panel, who will award 60 Challenge winners a place on TFI’s “Innovation and Industry Insights Weekend” taking place next February. Over the course of the weekend students will receive both innovation-related skills training, including failure, empathy and design thinking; and insight into the financial services industry, through networking opportunities, office tours and employer presentations. The weekend will culminate in a ‘Dragons’ Den’ -style pitch competition and speed interviewing.  Student participants will also have a 1 in 3 chance of securing a paid summer internship in one of our participating employer organizations:  Aviva, BMO, CIBC, Intact, OMERS, HSBC, RBC, Scotiabank, Sun Life and TD Bank.   

The ASPIRE Challenge is currently open to all 2nd year undergraduate students, across the GTA. Deadline to apply is Sunday 2nd December 2018. For more information visit  

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