The Magnet portal for Ontario’s jobseekers

In 2013, the province of Ontario registered very high levels of youth unemployment. It prompted Ryerson University in Toronto, with the support of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, to develop a jobseekers’ portal. What distinguishes Magnet from other job sites is the way it matches user profiles with those of potential employers, the privacy it offers users, and the social inclusiveness that it promotes. There is a focus on all groups facing obstacles to entering the labour market, not just the young unemployed but also groups such as new immigrants, aboriginal peoples, and applicants with disabilities.

The challenge

In 2013, there was a pressing youth unemployment problem in Ontario. “In 2013, the unemployment rate for Ontario youth aged 15-24 fluctuated between 16% and 17.1%, trending above the Canadian range of 13.5% to 14.5% and placing Ontario as the worst province outside Atlantic Canada for high youth unemployment. The employment gap between youth and older workers in Ontario is now at an all-time high, with only one in two youth fortunate enough to be holding down a paying job.” [1]  For employers and job seekers there were a dizzying array of job boards and portals. “There was a significant amount of fragmentation,” explained Mark Patterson, Executive Director of Magnet. “The fragmentation and frustration this caused for both job seekers and employers – knowing where to look and post jobs – was a challenge.”

The initiative

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which represents 60,000 businesses in the province, and Ryerson University in Toronto partnered to develop a response to the youth unemployment situation in 2014. “Magnet is the first platform to deliver accurate, instant, and inexpensive matchmaking for the marketplace. Using the powerful technology platform WhoPlusYou – incubated at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone – Magnet allows jobseekers to connect to the right employment opportunities that match their qualifications, skills, and interests.” [2]

Magnet now has “over 20 university and college partners, representing more than 650,000 students, thousands of employers, and a growing list of employment-focused and community-based organisations”. [3] As well as students, Magnet focuses on recent immigrants, Canadian aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and other individuals facing barriers to employment.

The aim is to connect students and graduates with relevant labour market information and the businesses that need their skills. Once connected, candidates and employers can communicate within the system by chat, video and audio conference, and through multimedia presentations. “Once you sign up and build a profile, Magnet begins by searching for the right employment and professional networking opportunities. Your profile attracts the matches that fit your qualifications and interests.” [4]

The public impact

Magnet has had significant impact on the Ontario job market:

  • There are nearly 100,000 active jobseekers registered with Magnet.
  • The average user with  complete profiles received 50 job application invitations from employers in the last year and 11 connections over a six-month period.[5]
  • There are more than 104,000 employers who use the system to post jobs and hire talent.

This level of impact has led to Magnet launching partnerships in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.


Public Confidence Good

The members of the public who are affected by Magnet – the unemployed, in particular – have demonstrated confidence in it: more than 100,000 users, over 610,000 employers, 31 post-secondary educational institutions in Canada and more than 170 labour andcommunity-based organisations are registered with Magnet. This is at least partly because Magnet offers users greater user privacy than other sites as well as more detailed information in the user profile about their experience and job requirements to match them with employers. Patterson said the high levels of user engagement today can be traced to the time and effort by Magnet staff to spread word in the local community about Magnet and encourage jobseekers and businesses alike to register.

Magnet did encounter resistance from some quarters. People who were in the business of supporting jobseekers to find employment, like employment agency representatives or career counselors, were concerned Magnet might make them redundant. “People were fearful,” said Patterson. The problem, he said, was that “nobody was actually looking at the system. You have all of these individual actors who all feel threatened when you start to talk about system changes. For us, one of the main things we did was build trust by building tools that supported each those organisations to do their job better and be more collaborative and have more of a systems view.”

Stakeholder Engagement Strong

Magnet received funding from various stakeholders such as Ontario’s provincial government and its Chamber of Commerce. “Ontario invested almost CAD1.2 million to help expand Magnet to post-secondary institutions across the province.” [6] The Chamber of Commerce was particularly interested in helping small businesses recruit through Magnet. “Small businesses just didn’t have a way to access the talent pool in a way that we’d like,” explained Patterson. “It just made sense early on that if you’re going to figure out how to address these issues, that we look at how to engage small- and medium-size businesses more effectively and create a system that allowed them to also recruit from post-secondary institutions more effectively.”

The other main stakeholder was Ryerson University, which has an interest in providing tools for its own graduates as well as a desire to address youth unemployment generally.

The other main stakeholders are the jobseekers and employers who are potentially brought together by the Magnet network.

Political Commitment Good

Magnet was principally an initiative of academia and business. Patterson explained Ryerson University’s early role: “What we did was take what are now three technology companies that were in our University incubators that we saw potential in addressing in addressing some of the issues around unemployment and underemployment. We brought them around the Magnet brand and the University helped create the institution, do the marketing, and launch the initiative.” The Ontario Chamber of Commerce, as the representative of local businesses recognised the value in partnering with Magnet. The platform has also received significant funding from the provincial government.


Clear Objectives Good

The main objective of Magnet is to address unemployment and underemployment of young people and individuals facing barriers to employment by connecting jobseekers with businesses seeking to hire.


Evidence Fair

It was clear that Ontario had a significant problem with unemployment among under-25s.

It was also apparent from studies that newcomers are fundamental to labour market growth and Canadian economic competitiveness, but still face barriers to full employment. “Studies show that newcomers are fundamental to labour market growth and Canada’s economic competitiveness, but research indicates they still face barriers to full employment (Statistics Canada, 2014). Barriers to employment include lack of understanding of the Canadian employment system, as well as systemic barriers related to ‘Canadian experience’, credential recognition, racial discrimination ([Ontario Human Rights Commission] OHRC, 2014) and bias. Fragmented service delivery and information and a lack of local labour market information may contribute to inefficiencies and potentially inadequate supports (Mowat Centre, 2014).

Feasibility Fair

Magnet’s technical feasibility was addressed by “The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) partnering with Magnet to expand the career platform’s supply/demand pipeline, giving ICT job seekers access to more jobs and making it easier and cheaper for small-to-medium sized businesses to tap into the supply of qualified candidates”. [7] It uses the technology platform WhoPlusYou, which was incubated at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (see The initiative).

However, what the Magnet team couldn’t know at the time was the extent to which people would engage with the platform. “The biggest thing is that the challenges in this kind of project isn’t a technological limitation,” said Patterson. “It’s more of behavioural resistance to change and self-interest. What we really focused on was identifying each of the stakeholders and how we could do something that would benefit them in their core focus and fit into the bigger initiative.”


Management Good

Magnet is a “not-for-profit social innovation”. [8] The executive director of Magnet is Mark Patterson who is a member of the Ventures for Canada Advisory Board and a recipient of the Linda Grayson Administrative Leadership Awards, which recognises individuals who have “demonstrated exceptional leadership through effectively managing a project, activity or team, to achieve outstanding results”. [9]

Magnet is backed by its partners, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Ryerson University, both of which are well-established institutions. It operates from within Ryerson University.

Measurement Good

The main metrics were the number of registered and active users and employers, as well as information related to matching the two, for example, the average number of job application invitations from employers to jobseekers and other forms of connection between them.

Alignment Strong

There is a strong alignment of goals between the main actors. The two main partners have provided funding, while the network itself has good relationships with businesses, not just through the Chamber of Commerce but also through its sponsors, such as Tangerine and Ingenie. It also has relationships with many educational institutions, not only with Ryerson University. It also partners with community organisations, economic and workforce development organisations and professional associations.

Magnet’s main role is to align jobseekers and employers to their mutual benefit. There is a particular focus on diversity and social inclusion, so that there is alignment with those who face particular barriers to employment.

Magnet has reached out to immigrants by partnering with:

  • “Immigrant serving organisations. [10]
  • Multi-stakeholders initiatives.
  • Ethno-cultural organisations.
  • Professional immigrant networks.”

It also organises events to help immigrants into employment by giving them a greater understanding of the Canadian labour market.

With Ontario's support, “the system has expanded to 18 colleges and universities across the province to help businesses recruit qualified students and graduates for jobs in their fields”. [11]