Lee Taal (third from right), founder of Victoria tech firm Chatter High, proudly holds an award the career planning education company won as 2017 EdTech Partner of the Year at the Canadian EdTech Leadership Summit in Toronto recently. He is joined in the celebration by team members (from left) Mike Sproule, Michelle Martin, Ellen Harrison, Taylor Irving, Allie Pentland and Cam Pinkerton. Photo contributed

Victoria tech park-based firm helping students plan their futures

Chatter High was recently named EdTEch Partner of the Year at a national education summit

Planning for one’s future doesn’t come naturally to most high schoolers.

Lee Taal, founder of ChatterHigh, a Vancouver Island Tech Park-based online resource that teaches teens, parents and educators how to best navigate the web to find job market, post-secondary, financial, health and other information, knows this well.

Unless a student is predisposed to know the direction in which they want their life to head, it can be difficult to know where to start looking, even after taking planning in high school and spending a lot of time on the web.

“Every student in the country has to go through courses to learn about that,” he says. “Looking at that information is a little challenging at the best of times for any of us, so we try to make it fun. We’ve created a digital exploration tool to get teens more engaged in that space and get them actively involved.”

Founded in 2009, ChatterHigh is today expanding across Canada and starting to make inroads into the U.S. market. Taal himself has been working with school districts and provincial ministries of education on how to create more interactive career planning curriculum. Its ongoing commitment to connecting students with meaningful career information was recognized recently at the Canadian EdTech Leadership Summit in Toronto, where ChatterHigh was named EdTech Partner of the Year.

As part of Canada Career Month in November, it has been running its third annual Canada’s Most-Informed School competition. The “gamified” national contest motivates students to seek out career and scholarship information online and awards them points that can earn their school cash prizes or money for charity projects. A variety of local schools are heavily involved, including Esquimalt High, École Victor Brodeur, Mount Doug, Claremont, Parklands, St. Andrew’s Regional High and Pacific Christian School.

Camosun College, an early supporter of the company, recently held its seventh annual ChatterHigh competition for local schools. The winners were Esquimalt in the AAA category and École Brodeur in the AA division.

Taal says career education is meant to address such barriers to good planning as a lack of hope or belief in one’s future. He points to a Canadian statistic that between 10 and 20 per cent of post-secondary students drop out before completing a degree because they don’t like what they’ve chosen to study. It illustrates how a lack of information about what those choices would look like can leave students feeling flat.

For high schoolers, there can often be a lack of trust in online resources, Taal says, so they don’t hone their search skills to be able to mine the myriad scholarship and education opportunities available. “I want to broaden their occupational horizons dramatically so that they have many more choices.”

ChatterHigh is also working with schools, districts and ministries to increase graduation rates, by helping boost students’ interest in school and their confidence, and motivating them to actively pursue the next step in their education or career. With the impending retirements in all areas of the work force, Taal says, “it’s important right now to have everyone prepared to fill the jobs that will be coming up.”

Canada Career Month runs to Nov. 30. Its theme, “What’s Next?” asks students, teachers and career development experts to consider the next generation of solutions to engage Canadians in career planning.

For more information on ChatterHigh, visit chatterhigh.com or email then at info@chatterhigh.com.

editor@vicnews.com

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