New Digital Marketing Apprenticeship Program emerges from DISC

Digital Marketing Appreticeship program, Digital Trades School , Opencity Inc, experiential learning

The new Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program has emerged from the successful Digital Innovation Skills Certificate (DISC). The new program run by the Digital Trades School in Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and Windsor, builds upon the DISC program foundation.

DISC provided a foundational blueprint for future career-ready training in Ontario. 98% of the young people enrolled in the program secured jobs as a consequence of the experiential training. Here we explore the new 7-month apprenticeship certificate.

“The workplace of the early 21stcentury is being redefined by widespread digital disruption. Within this context, the knowledge base skill set which drive success for both Ontario youth and business owners alike, are becoming increasingly digitized. The rapidly changing landscape of the Ontario workplace has created skill deficits on multiple fronts; leaving certain segments of youth struggling to find employment opportunities, while certain business sectors have found themselves ill-equipped to compete in this increasingly digital world.”

Video of the former Digital Innovation Skills Certificate (DISC) program run through Waterloo Region Small Business Centre. The full report can be viewed here. This has evolved into the Apprentice program run by the Digital Trades School.

“However, perhaps the most glaring indication of the impact of ICT skills have been on the employability of Ontario Youth is the drastic difference in the number of jobs that become available to those who acquire these skills.”


Reflection on the Digitial Innovation Skills Certificate program

In this section, we examine the former DISC program run in Waterloo Region that set the foundation for the new 7-month apprenticeship. DISC was a 10-week graduate certificate program consisting of around 80-hours of experiential training across three-course modules; Digital Marketing, E-commerce and Project Management.

DISC program objectives

  1. To provide experiential training opportunities that equip non-BBA recent graduates with the Digital Marketing, E-commerce and Project Management skills they need to become more employable.
  2. To provide small business owners with a team of students to execute a 4-week Digital Marketing/ E-commerce project that impacts the growth of their business.
  3. To create a network of industry and academic partners to provide students with world-class course content, along with Expert Coaches to guide attainment of learning objectives.
  4. To provide program graduates with a range of employment opportunities, while giving small business owners a direct line to the talent they need to diversify their workforce.

Developed and certified by Wilfrid Laurier University Centre for Teaching Innovation and Excellence. Graduated left the program well-equipped for a career path in small business digital marketing. DISC was funded by the Youth Skills Connection (YSC) Industry Partnership grant.

  • 70% of course devoted to experiential learning described as Capstone projects;
  • 20% of the course time was dedicated to expert coaching;
  • 10% of the program was dedicated to student coursework, including HubSpot and Shopify online learning modules.

DISC outcomes

  • 86% of the 60 program participants aged 24-30 gained employment on completion of the training. The projects had a real impact on the growth of participating businesses and provided students with valuable real-world experience executing fundamental course concepts and skills. [The headline employment rate increased to 98%].
  • 91% agreed that due to their participation in the DISC program, they are better able to articulate their desired career path.
  • Small business owners also benefited from the close working relationship maintained with their student teams.
  • One of the unique and valuable elements of the DISC program was the large volume of partnerships between government, private industry, and post-secondary institutions.
  • Exceeded expectations for executing on the proposed value proposition and making a significant impact for all stakeholders.

The full 2017 DISC report by Waterloo Region Small Business Centre can be viewed here. 

“We successfully helped students to gain new, more meaningful employment; small business owners to grow their presence online; Canadian tech companies to commercialize their products; post-secondary schools to create meaningful industry-driven experiential learning programs; and lastly, helped the City of Kitchener to stimulate economic development and growth in the Region of Waterloo.”

Limitations of DISC

DISC had two somewhat parallel goals. First, to help youth improve their career readiness to gain employment. Second, to support local small business improve their digital competency. The short nature of the program means that the youth participants have begun a process to enhance their employment skills, yet, this does not make them experts in the field. The small businesses will not have yet mastered digital marketing in the same compressed period. In both cases, it is the start of the journey.

The development framework and outcomes created the impetus for recasting it as the new Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program.

New Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program

Digital Marketing Appreticeship program, Digital Trades School , Opencity Inc, experiential learning
The Digital Innovation Skills Certificate was run by Waterloo Region Small Business Centre to address Information and Communication Technology (ICT) skills 

“At the same time, Canada’s employers are going through a digital transformation and are not adequately prepared to navigate the new digital economy with their current workforce”, states the Digital Trades School. “This presents an incredible opportunity for today’s graduates. You can build on top of your degree with a set of critical digital skills that will put you at the top of every company’s list for recruitment.”

The Digital Trades School is at the helm of steering the 7-month apprenticeship, which now expands beyond Kitchener-Waterloo with parallel programs in Hamilton and Windsor. These in-demand digital skills transform the way every industry operates. The new Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program is supported by Wilfrid Laurier, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development and multiple local partners.

Embedding new work practices in a business environment requires a sustained culture change initiative. The extended apprenticeship training, real-world paid experience and coach support provides a strong backbone and probability of success.

Digital Marketing Appreticeship program, Digital Trades School , Opencity Inc, experiential learning

Small business: A technological skill deficit

“In our [KW] region, this combination of innovative educational programming, coupled with dynamic engagement from various strategic partners, is a proven formula for innovation, job creation and growing businesses that are regionally, nationally and globally competitive.”

There are over 400,000 small medium enterprises (SME) across Ontario. This accounts for a staggering 87.3% employment of the private sector workforce in Ontario, based on 2015 stats. Small firms of less than 100 employees account for 97.9 of the employer businesses in Canada.

“Simply put, within the content of the widespread digital disruption of the 21stcentruy, small business owners lack the knowledge and skill set required to execute core business activities to strategically sustain and grow their business.”

Non-BBA recent graduates: Gaps in Essential Skills and Work Experience

“The undergraduate experience of non-BBA students is void of training in the ICT skills…. produces an entire segment of university graduates who begin the race to post-secondary employment with a sizeable deficit in both their skill set and real work experience.”

The unemployment rate for adults aged 25 and older with post-secondary education credentials was 4.5% over the first nine months of 2017 in Ontario.

The Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program will help graduates learn in-demand digital skills in a hands-on, unique learning approach. World-class industry experts coach authentic work experience.

Digital Marketing Apprenticeship program, Digital Trades School, Digital Innovation Skills Certificate, DISC, experiential learning

“In this reality of limited resources and the potential for economic disruption, SMEs must remain innovative by acting upon operational optimizations and technological inventions.”


We explored the subject of experiential learning in our previous post that examined the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) Expert Review Panel Report here. We are working with St. Lawrence College in Kingston building a Social Hackathon model to help students develop critical problem-solving skills and experiential learning.

I’m excited to be speaking at #INBOUND18 this year in Boston Sept. 4-7. Use this code SPKRJGR200 to get a $200 discount on an ALL ACCESS Pass. See my session on video creation in 20-minutes for the aspiring content marketer.


Images supplied by the Digital Trades School. Quotes are taken from the DISC report unless otherwise identified.