Passion about career paths nabs entrepreneurial award

Ann Garrett, Sharon Poole and Janet Spafford are passionate about helping people navigate their career paths.

RED Challenge winners from the left

Ann Garrett, Sharon Poole and Janet Spafford are passionate about helping people navigate their career paths.

Now the three women’s own path has became a little smoother, after they were declared the winners of the 2013 RED Challenge.

The annual entrepreneurial competition carries a grand prize of $20,000, as well as mentoring support from Community Futures and office space at Red Deer College.

Speaking to the Advocate, Garrett and Spafford agreed that their involvement in the RED Challenge will help them develop their fledgling business, Career Catalysts of Central Alberta.

“We’ve grown together as a team,” said Garrett of the experience, which involved preparing a detailed business plan and presenting it to a panel of judges in a ‘Dragons Den’ setting.

All three work at Red Deer College: Garrett as an employment services co-ordinator, Poole as a psychologist at the counselling and career centre, and Spafford in student services at the registrar’s office.

Garrett and Spafford said they were regularly being approached outside of work for career advice.

“The whole idea was sort of born from realizing that there was a bit of a void in the community for career development counselling and employment services after hours and on weekends,” said Garrett.

“Locally, there are some organizations that do some good work, but it’s all during the week.”

They also felt that the demise in 2010 of the Central Alberta Career Prep Initiative, which helped high school students with career planning, left a hole.

Career Catalysts of Central Alberta is the result. It’s designed to assist youths who are pondering their options.

“But we also want to look at the mature workforce, who are either in a job that they hate and are looking for something more fulfilling, or they’re parents that have been out of the workforce and are returning,” said Garrett.

Assistance could range from help with a resumé and cover letter, to a comprehensive assessment of the client’s skills, interests and aptitude with an eye to choosing and preparing for a specific vocation or profession.

Poole, will meet with clients and do the initial assessment and testing; Poole and Spafford will discuss the results with them and explore options and strategies.

In addition to working with clients when it’s convenient for them, Career Catalysts of Central Alberta provides personalized one-on-one service, said Garrett.

Eric Kokko, director of applied research and innovation at Red Deer College, was among the judges who heard Garrett, Poole and Spafford’s presentation.

“They had a very clear business plan,” he said. “They were able to very clearly articulate the needs that are unmet needs, and they have a broad client base beyond high school students.”

Their presentation even included a testimonial by a women whom Garrett, Poole and Spafford helped return to the workforce after years as a stay-at-home mom.

“It was a testimonial that was so genuine, so real and quite impactful,” said Kokko.

He added that the competition was tough, with five finalists vying for the award.

“The sophistication of the contestants was very high, and it just seems that every year it’s better and they’re more prepared.”

Spafford said she’s enthused about helping high school students find their place in the working world — a service that should be appreciated by parents as well.

“I just hope we can take away that anxiety of sending their kids to college or sending them out into the workforce.”

Garrett is also eager to lend a helping hand.

“If I can make a difference in somebody’s life, that’s the catalyst.”

The RED Challenge is organized by Red Deer College, Olds College, the City of Red Deer, Red Deer Regional Economic Development and Alberta Innovates.

Last year, Mike Kozlowski and Kristen Carlson won the RED Challenge for their Steel Pony Farm — a small-scale agricultural operation that uses natural and organic methods to grow products for direct sale to consumers.

Additional information about Career Catalysts of Central Alberta can obtained by email at

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