Like many other students, Tj Jones was a Covid graduate in May 2020 and was not able to walk across the stage and accept his parchment. Tj graduated with an over 90% average, was awarded multiple scholarships during his time in College, and was chosen to be valedictorian for his campus’ graduating class. It had been a long road to graduate from the College of the North Atlantic (CNA) at the age of 34, and not being able to attend convocation, was a disappointment.
Tj dropped out of high school due to bullying, and it wasn’t until his late 20’s that he enrolled in the Adult Basic Education program at The Murphy Centre. Sixteen months later, not only did he finish all his remaining high school credits, but in the program’s supported environment, Tj found his passion and confidence. “The instructors gave me a future I didn’t think I had.”
The program’s instructors and admin staff encouraged him to apply to a post secondary program. Tj knew that he wanted to use his education as a vehicle of change so he enrolled in Business Management at CNA, initially with the intent to pursue marketing so he could bring an inclusionary lens to the field. By the time he needed to formally select his focus, he had discovered a love for HR and recognized this was a more appropriate route to accomplish his goals, so he switched.
At the end of his second year, Tj completed his program’s placement during intersession, a shortened 6-week semester, where he worked as an HR Admin Assistant for CareGivers. In this role he did data entry, completed an audit of hard-copy personnel files, participated in employee relations meetings, and attended PD training. Tj appreciated the opportunity to work with CareGivers, but he realized that he was not meant to be at a computer all day or work a traditional “9 – 5”.
“I think a big thing, which I kind of expected based on my experience with the curriculum up to that point, was that it also affirmed for me that working to change and challenge HR practices was where I was headed, as opposed to working within the current system.”
Starting his own business was always the goal, to both help improve inclusion for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks and maintain the flexibility and freedom to continue with his community work. So in January 2021, seven months after graduating, Tj started his own 2SLGBTQIA+ focused EDI company called Full Picture Management. “Through presentations, workshops, resource development, consulting, etc. I support businesses in expanding their capacity to meaningfully include 2SLGBTQIA+ workers and customers.”
Since then, Tj has worked with Canada’s LGBT+ Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) on several initiatives, including: contributing to the development of guidelines for the Rainbow Registered accreditation program; developing and delivering workshops on 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive tourism, contributing to an inclusive workforce, and inclusive management practices; and training other facilitators.
“Just recently I’ve also started working with CNA’s admin/exec to support them in creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for queer and trans students. I will be leading a 2SLGBTQIA+-focused working group within the College’s EDI Committee, training faculty and staff, and presenting to students.“
Tj’s experience at the College of the North Atlantic was transformative and he encourages other students to participate in work-integrated learning. “Do it! These experiences provide so many opportunities - to meet others in your field and launch your professional network; learn the “behind-the-scenes” and “day-to-day” of a position/industry; clarify where your strengths and weaknesses may exist in the industry (and where you could focus your efforts in later schooling); and receive feedback/guidance/insight from folks with more experience.”
“Be open to all the potential learning and remind yourself that everyone starts somewhere! This opportunity is designed to give you access and experience in a position related to your education that acknowledges that you are still learning. It will support you in seeing how all the theory and assignments translate in performing the job - and it’s okay to not know everything and still refer to texts. Even pros still use Google!”