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Civic Youth Fellowship

by | Feb 2, 2024 | Culture, In The Mag! | 0 comments

How Edmonton is shaping tomorrow by investing in today’s youth

Many students struggle to find work after graduating due to a lack of experience and connections in their chosen industry. 

It’s rare for students to work a job during their studies that is related to their field. None of the jobs provide them with the minimum of two years of experience that today’s job postings often require. In order to  compete in the work field, it feels like one should have already made a million connections to actually secure a job. 

Arpit Sandhu is one of the lucky ones. 

Sandu is in his second year in the arts and majoring in sociology, but gets to study from his office in City Hall when the MacEwan campus gets too crowded. His job started with an Instagram ad posted by the administrative organization that caught his eye and compelled him to apply for the Civic Youth Fellowship. The program launched in 2023. Sandhu, who gets to experience the program in its infancy, describes his time there positively. 

“It completely changed my perspective in the way that I went from being a first-year student, then I started going into politics,” he says. “It made me become more precise; I have to solve problems and think on my feet 24/7, and a lot of my skills, like writing, reading, and collaborating with other people, have improved.”

Sandhu has always been interested in working in politics, and becoming an intern for the City of Edmonton has only intensified his interest in pursuing a career in politics. His previous and only job  before the opportunity was at Superstore. Sandhu expresses appreciation for the drastic environment change at the council staff office. 

“I love working in politics, so I saw this as my stepping stone toward that opportunity.”

Arpit Sandhu, second-year student and community assistant

On a typical work day, Sandhu arrives at City Hall at around 8:30 a.m. “Instead of working on one major project, I did a bunch of mini-projects,” he explains. “I did projects about the holidays, and did research on hydrogen, and the future of Edmonton’s economy.”

“They ask you what types of projects you want to be involved in, like if you want to sit in the council committee meetings.”

Through the program, Sandhu has gained a newfound understanding and respect for what city councillors do for citizens. “I didn’t know how any of our municipal politics work — I knew we had 12 councillors and a mayor, but we also have the clerk’s office and city manager’s office,” he says. “We have five deputy city managers with a lot of power that work really hard and I never saw that before. Engaging with all of these different people was really cool.” 

Jasmine Brazil, the strategic advisor and Office of the City manager, says that the Civic Youth Fellowship program was a project handed to her when she was first hired. “It started as an idea between one of the City of Edmonton staff folks and the Canadian Race Foundation… I started here and then got handed the project.”

Brazil is the current project manager for the internship on the city’s side of things. Brazil works closely with community partners like the Africa Centre and IslamicFamily to deliver the program. 

The Civic Youth Fellowship is a program that is designed to give youth access to municipal government. “In our pilot year, there were 13 positions available that aligned with the councillors, and this year, we have expanded that into the deputy city managers’ offices,” says Brazil. “We wanted to create this program so that youth could enter in, learn about what civic engagement is, how the municipal government functions, and to give feedback to us to diversify the perspectives and bring new leadership to the council and to administration.”

Applicants go through a series of steps before working alongside the city councillors and deputy city managers. First, the community partners lead the interviews before the shortlisted candidates go through four pre-training sessions to learn skills and network with like-minded individuals in the municipal political field. After attending these sessions, the successful applicants are assigned placements in the city’s office. Lastly, they are taken through an onboarding day to help familiarize themselves with the city before they’re sent on their way to work in the office and rub elbows with the city’s major decision-makers. 

Last year, Brazil and her team received about 70 applications and brought it down to 13 successful interns by the end of the process. This year, they’re experiencing just as much interest in the program. 

Additionally, Brazil appreciates the opportunity to learn from the youth. They also help them understand what needs to be improved in government. “We had some engagement opportunities where we sat down with the cohort and said, ‘Tell us what you think about this, how do you think the city is doing in this space, and how do you think we could do better?’ We were given a great opportunity not just to share about the city, but also to learn ourselves and that two-way learning is a critical component of this program.”  

Danielle Connolly, a senior marketing advisor for the City of Edmonton, says that this program is tied to the city’s broader anti-racism strategy that was developed a couple of years ago in trying to elevate opportunities for underrepresented individuals to have a chance to work in government.” 

“That’s the ultimate goal [of this program], to see our workforce become diversified and representative of the city that we serve.”

Jasmine Brazil, strategic advisor

The fellowship intends to make space for racialized and Indigenous students in government by getting them as deeply involved as possible in policy-making and the day-to-day operations in City Hall. The City of Edmonton has multiple internship programs open to all intersectional identities, so there are many other opportunities for racialized and indigenous students in other programs. 

“This one was really meant to work with our community partners to do something completely different than what the system creates and think differently about how we open up these doors and these spaces and make them as welcoming and inclusive and reduce as many barriers as possible,” Brazil says.

The program team ensures that the interns are in as many important rooms and around as many important people as possible. “Last year, we saw incredible results of the program, having six of the youth end up being employed by the end either with their assigned councillor or in non-profit in other policy and government positions.” 

After the program concluded, Arpit was offered a job as a community assistant under Tim Cartmell, the councillor forWard Pihêsiwin in southwest Edmonton. Sandhu is one of the youngest people to work in a council office in Edmonton. “Four other interns got jobs in the government. If you work hard, you’ll definitely get something out of [the program],” he says.

Sandhu encourages students to apply to be a part of the 2024 cohort of the Civic Youth Fellowship. “It really changes your outlook, not only on life, but on how everything functions within one’s city. You become more aware of what goes into the tiniest things,” he says.

“That’s the ultimate goal [of this program],” says Brazil, “[it’s] to see our workforce become diversified and representative of the city that we serve.” 

While the 2024 cohort application intake closed in January, students should keep their eyes peeled for the 2025 Civic Youth Fellowship application intake or other City of Edmonton internship opportunities on their website. Recent graduates are also eligible to apply for these opportunities.

Photos supplied by Arpit and Jasmine

Aajah Sauter

The Griff


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