About the Project

AspireAtlantic is a demonstration study seeking to implement and test an evidence-based employment services model in Nova Scotia and PEI.

WorkAdvance, the model upon which this project is based, is designed to help unemployed and low-wage workers connect to higher quality local jobs in high growth sectors. It was developed using research and was tested in three U.S. cities, demonstrating positive economic outcomes for participants.

The primary goal of WorkAdvance is to move unemployed and low-wage working populations into sectors that offer better pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities.

The WorkAdvance Model

The WorkAdvance model is made up of five core components:

  1. Intensive screening of the participants to ensure that participants are set up for success
  2. Pre-employment and career readiness services to make participants employment ready
  3. Occupational skills training to develop sector specific skills for the in-demand jobs in the sector of focus
  4. Job development and placement services to match the participants with jobs in the targeted sector
  5. Retention and advancement services to help the participant advance in their career
Sector Based Employer Input

Diagram adapted from the WorkAdvance Logic Model
MDRC. (2016). Encouraging evidence on a sector-focused advancement strategy: Two-year impacts from the WorkAdvance demonstration. Retrieved from MDRC website: https://www.mdrc.org/publication/encouraging-evidence-sector-focused-advancement-strategy

The Demonstration Study

AspireAtlantic is divided into two main phases:

1) Design Phase

The Design Phase is a pre-implementation phase focused on gathering existing and new contextual information and working with identified stakeholders (e.g., Service Provider Organizations (SPOs), sectoral representatives, and low wage or unemployed individuals) in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to help inform the adaptation of the WorkAdvance model.

The main goal of these activities is to optimize the model for the best chance of success in the Atlantic Canadian context. This phase will end with an implementation plan and a group of partners who are committed to moving forward with Pier Labs into the next phase. This includes the submission of a proposal for the second stage of funding.

2) Study Phase

The intent of the Study Phase is to use a rigorous research design, such as a Randomized Controlled Trial, to test whether the adapted model is effective or provides value over and above existing employment services in Nova Scotia and PEI.

Questions we aim to answer through this study are:

  • How effective is the adapted WorkAdvance model in moving unemployed and low-income individuals into higher quality jobs (i.e., higher paying, benefits, advancement opportunities)?
  • What kind of impact does this type of employment program have on other aspects of quality of life for low- income individuals and their broader household?
  • What kind of impacts does it have for employers?


AspireAtlantic is a multi-year initiative. The Design Phase is anticipated to be completed by December 2020, with the Study Phase spanning from approximately 2021-2026.


Project News and Publications

Project Team

Dr. Lynn Liao is the lead researcher with the AspireAtlantic Project. Lynn’s work has primarily focused on social issues that affect historically marginalized and vulnerable groups including racialized youth, persons experiencing poverty, rural youth, women, immigrants and refugees. She has extensive experience conducting community-based participatory research, including designing research, developing data collection tools, conducting data analysis, and disseminating research findings to a non-technical audiences. She brings an anti-oppression lens to her work, with a specific focus on cultural factors such as race/ethnicity, gender, and immigration. Lynn holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Master of Arts in Community Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University. In 2017, she received her Doctor of Philosophy in Community Psychology from DePaul University.

Laura is trained as a researcher, strategist, and designer, with over 7 years of experience in design-focused roles. Prior to joining Davis Pier, she held the position of senior foresight strategist, where she worked with a diverse set of clients and stakeholders to anticipate and strategically plan for the long-term future. She is passionate about human-centred approaches to enabling transformational change. Her skillset includes participatory research methods, stakeholder engagement and facilitation, research synthesis, prototyping, and communication design. Laura holds a Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCAD University, a Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies (B.E.D.S.) from Dalhousie University, and a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary.

Ilse is a Researcher with the AspireAtlantic Project and has over 5 years of experience working with vulnerable populations and low income housing in Canada, the Netherlands and India. Most recently, she worked in the the public sector where she was involved in the development and implementation of initiatives under the National Housing Strategy. Ilse holds a Bachelor of Science in International Development Studies from Wageningen University and Master of Science in Contemporary Asian Studies from the University of Amsterdam, as well as a Master of Science in International Development Studies from Wageningen University.

Jennifer is the Project Manager for the AspireAtlantic Project and has over 20 years of diverse experience, working in both public sector and consulting, leading complex change initiatives focused in areas of natural resources management, geomatics, health care, community development, and advanced education. She is a strategic leader, who has a proven ability to co-create and implement innovative solutions to complex system and societal challenges. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from Saint Mary's University, Masters of Business Administration from Athabasca University, and a Master’s Certificate in Project Management.

Contact the Team