Sunday, April 21, 2024

Faculty researcher helping her new home grow

At College of the North Atlantic’s (CNA) Topsail Road Office in St. John’s, everyone already knows Aleksandra Stefanovic-Chafe for her warm smile and friendly greetings when passing by in the hallway.

But few know the exciting details of her work as a Faculty Researcher with the NL Workforce Innovation Centre (NLWIC), and the extraordinary sacrifice and determination it took for her to get here.

Stefanovic-Chafe is originally from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was still one of Yugoslavia’s republics when she was growing up. Back then, Sarajevo was world famous for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics. Tourists flocked to the city to take in its mountain vistas and unique blend of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian architecture, while the city’s people savoured Turkish coffee, a special social ritual that can never be rushed.   

“Bosnia is one of the most beautiful places you will ever see, its natural beauty unparalleled,” Stefanovic-Chafe said. “Rivers, lakes, waterfalls galore, spectacular mountains, and a small stretch of a beautiful Adriatic coast. A lot of this natural beauty still untouched.”

Leaving home

Tragically, that idyllic period of Stefanovic-Chafe’s life came to an abrupt end in the 1990s, when her beloved city fell under siege in the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. The violence tore families apart, turned neighbour against neighbour, along lines that genuinely hadn’t seemed all that important before. She was one of the hundreds of thousands of people uprooted from their beloved home and scattered around the world. 

“After leaving home at the start of the war, I lived with family in neighbouring Serbia where I eventually applied to immigrate to Canada, as the whole region was quite unstable,” she said.

Fortunately, her application was successful. Soon enough, Stefanovic-Chafe held in her hands the paperwork that would allow her to start over in a new country. On one of those pages, she learned for the first time where exactly in Canada she would be settling.

“Destination: St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said. “Honestly, I didn’t know anything about this province. It was a big cultural shock! I’ve been living here since 1997, married a local, and had a three-year stint in Toronto — I believe that makes me a Newfoundlander!”

Starting over

Stefanovic-Chafe immediately got to work building her new life as a Newfoundlander.

Aleksandra Stefanovic-Chafe.

Having grown up in a family that cherished the tradition of vibrant political discourse, she chose to study political science and German literature at Memorial University of Newfoundland. With her education in political science and knack for just getting things done, she started her own business, Lennika Consulting Inc.

Stefanovic-Chafe worked as an independent consultant and researcher, specializing in employment, and more specifically how to create more inclusive opportunities for vulnerable and marginalized people, as well as the increasingly prevalent number of people with precarious employment.

“My passion remains research, mostly in employment, health, social and economic issues, and immigration. British author, journalist and educator Christopher Hitchens once said, ‘what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’,” she noted. “It’s important to look for that guiding light of evidence to make informed decisions, and better decisions, in every aspect of life.”

That passion for research was a sure sign that she would be a perfect fit for NLWIC.

“When CNA/NLWIC advertised for the position of a Faculty Researcher focused on identifying high-potential job pathways into our province’s growing workforce needs, I immediately thought ‘this is me’,” she said, echoing a sentiment several of her colleagues at NLWIC have said of their own positions. “After the first week or so, I was struck by the CNA’s strong sense of community and the emphasis on valuing and supporting its employees.”

Roughly four months into her new position, Stefanovic-Chafe’s love for her work and the NLWIC team has only grown. Her research leadership role in the Job Transition Pathways Research Project is integral to its examination of the uniqueness of this province’s economy, and the dynamics of the labour force including changing occupations and skills, and why it can be a challenge to secure long-term stability for certain occupations.

“We feel there is a responsibility to all workers in Newfoundland and Labrador to create conditions in which they can have viable options for employment even if their industry may be experiencing a decline,” she said, citing well-paid opportunities in sectors such as natural resources and technology as examples of the type of work Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may wish to pursue through a job transition.

“When people invest in their skills and training, they hope to have the opportunities to utilize them and make decent wages,” she said. “We are exploring the possibilities of workers being prepared to transition into an alternative work or occupation with a similar or slightly adjusted skillset that could provide good wages and more long-term job security. In addition to supporting local workers, we hope to provide innovative solutions for workforce development policies in our province.”

Collaboration and creativity

One of the highlights of her work thus far has been collaborating with NLWIC’s partners throughout the country, including the Dais think tank at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“It’s a unique and, I think, important perspective that expert researchers and economists outside of the province can share with us and support our efforts in creating innovative projects and policies,” she said.

Aleksandra Stefanovic-Chafe at her office.

Stefanovic-Chafe is now working on the second phase of this research project collaboration, which includes validating the findings of the Dais labour market scan produced in collaboration with NLWIC.

“I consider myself more of a qualitative researcher,” she said. “Connecting with people and hearing their stories, lived experiences, their concerns and aspirations, that is what gives me the most pleasure in my work. And that’s what we get to do in phase two. There is only so much we can learn through literature and exploring best practices. Phase two is very much about building relationships with workers, employers, industry experts and professional associations. The most exciting part is not really knowing where this can take us and what we can learn.”

The Job Transition Pathways Research Project is supported by the provincial Department of Immigration, Population Growth, and Skills, the Max Bell Foundation, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, and CNA. It is just one of the many ways NLWIC is exploring how Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy can grow, and what skills the province’s workforce will need for which occupations now and in the future.

Innovative work

Headquartered in Corner Brook, NLWIC’s research projects are revealing the unique social and economic circumstances of each region throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Director Sharon McLennon says it’s impossible to overstate how valuable this local data is because it enables all labour market stakeholders to work together on initiatives that address the actual challenges and opportunities in their specific region.

Through the work of Stefanovic-Chafe and the rest of the highly specialized NLWIC team, McLennon says workforce development in this province will become ever more innovative and effective.

“Our provincial, national, and international research projects and collaborations are always a win-win,” McLennon said. “We are establishing CNA, NLWIC, and the province as a test bed of innovation in workforce development. That mutually benefits everyone, and we’re very excited about the research, testing, tools, and models that are coming out of our work.”

For more information about NLWIC, its research projects, and other core activities and resources, visit NLWIC-Funded Research Projects – NL Workforce Innovation Centre.

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Ryan Crocker
Ryan Crocker
Ryan is CNA's Manager of Communications. A graduate of CNA's Journalism program, Ryan worked as a journalist for more than a decade, winning multiple awards, before transitioning to marketing and communications. He returned to his alma mater in 2023 and contributes articles to CNA Currents working closely with Editor Ryanne McIsaac.

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