My Job Now: Alexander Dirksen

Tue, 20 Feb 2018

Welcome to My Job Now, a blog profile series featuring workers from across Canada. Engage with the SFU Public Square community by reading stories of career aspiration, professional development, and bumps along the road.

Alexander Dirksen is a proud member of Métis Nation BC, he is passionate about helping to craft an inclusive and equitable future for our country through the meaningful advancement of reconciliation. Alexander recently joined the First Nations Technology Council as Manager of Strategy and Engagement from Reconciliation Canada, where he served in the role of Government Relations and Stakeholder Engagement. 

Alexander has also served as Operations Manager for the Banff Forum and as a researcher at the Centre for Global Research at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where he explored transitional justice and reconciliation in the context of Timor-Leste.

Alexander holds an M.A. in Global Affairs from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto and a B.A. (with Honours) in International Studies from Simon Fraser University.

Learn more here.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

One of my earliest schoolyard memories is of digging up a patch of dirt outside my kindergarten classroom in the hopes of unearthing a long lost prehistoric species. My realization that my first big discovery was in actuality a piece of spare pipe and that the life of a palaeontologist involved extensive periods of time under the blazing desert sun led me to abandon these aspirations… 

I began my university studies in psychology and sociology before a political science elective with Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein on the course syllabus placed me on a path towards becoming a fully certified policy wonk. Along my journey, the personal intersected with the professional - a proud member of Métis Nation BC, the reconciliation space is one which has enabled me to apply my formal training to a space that is deeply important to me.

How has your career path unfolded so far?

While far from a linear path, there have been some common threads throughout my journey that have gotten me to where I am today. With each new chapter of my life I’ve been fortunate to have had incredible mentors and role models, who have encouraged me to explore options and opportunities I never would have explored in their absence. There have also been a number of tantalizing “exit ramps” from my vision that would have involved less work but would have led me to make sacrifices in regards to the depth and breadth of my current work - ignoring these isn’t always easy when you are first starting your career, but pay dividends later on.

Beginning in high school and through part of my undergraduate studies I worked at a local sawmill, which remains one of the most valuable learning experiences in my professional life - it taught me how to manage competing priorities, the importance of accountability and clear communication, and that laughter is always a strong antidote to stressful situations. Co-founding an international affairs publication during my undergraduate studies at SFU created a platform to find my own voice, while time abroad in Prague and Melbourne challenged me to approach issues from differing perspectives. Following the completion of my Masters I was a barista by night, while by day I explored the life of a nonprofit consultant. Having just returned to Vancouver from my time at the University of Toronto, consulting work provided the perfect opportunity to deepen my connections to the city and grow a network within it. One of these consulting positions led me my role with Reconciliation Canada, which in turn deepened my connection to my life’s work and passion. 

Those beginning their careers are told to expect a number and frequency of professional changes never before seen by previous generations. While this may be true, I’ve found that holding true to your North Star (whatever it may be) allows you to weather the unpredictable nature of the workforce while continuing to make contributions to a space you are passionate about - your job title may change, but all roles you hold will advance a common vision you hold for your community. 

The way we work is constantly changing, from the types of jobs we have, to where we do them. What new opportunities or challenges do you think the future of working might bring?

My biggest concern around the changing dynamics of the workplace centres upon how these changes will be disproportionately felt by those already marginalized, underrepresented or isolated from the current economic structures. The stress of certain leaps, shifts and changes in one’s career is partially eased by financial freedom, robust social and professional networks and access to the supports and opportunities to rapidly acquire new skills or certifications. Responding to this reality will require more than an increase in reskilling or upskilling programs - it will require a dramatic rethink as to how we quantify and place value upon skills and expertise, how we create the conditions within the workplace in which those of differing lived experiences can thrive, and how we redefine our own identities so as to not root them so firmly in our occupational titles. 

At the same time, this disruption of longstanding workplace norms and realities creates incredible opportunities to reimagine systems that have historically favoured the dominant voices in our society - Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement and Idle No More are united in a recognition that the status quo is not a just or level playing field, and that collectively as a society we are overlooking the tremendous value and strength that comes from the diversity of our communities. It is my hope that in responding to the nature of work we design systems in which all voices are elevated, respected and included in conversations around our shared future. 

What challenges have you faced in securing your desired employment situation?

While internships are a valuable entry point into a desired field or organization, they come at a cost - unpaid work simply isn’t an option for far too many recent graduates. Since completing my studies a number of universities (including SFU) have begun to explore other avenues through which to provide students with real-world experience earlier in their learning journeys and with the necessary supports, which is promising to see.

If you were offered a guaranteed basic income of $1,000/month with no strings attached, how might your life be different?

The value of the work I do doesn’t come from a monetary figure, so in that sense my life wouldn’t be dramatically different. I am incredibly privileged to be able to live and work on these unceded territories, and see with this privilege a responsibility to ensure that in addition to the type of financial support guaranteed basic income may provide that everyone has equitable access to all the other supports, services and opportunities that enable one to flourish. I fear that guaranteed basic income has become a silver bullet within some circles, and fails to acknowledge other societal barriers that prevent one from reaching their full potential. In addition to guaranteed basic income we need to provide guaranteed basic services - every Canadian should have access to clean drinking water (there are over 80 long-term boil water advisories in Indigenous communities across the country), mental and emotional health supports (one in five Canadians will face mental health challenges in their lifetimes) and safe and affordable housing (the value of Vancouver homes is now 11x the median income). We have a long way to go to making this a reality.  

Are there any projects you are working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

Through my work I’m fortunate to be able to travel to conferences to engage others in dialogue and action around reconciliation. In attending these events I’ve been struck by the lack of Indigenous voices, or the presence of Indigenous voices only on panels on diversity and inclusion. With the aim of elevating Indigenous voices I am working with an incredible team on an initiative called Raven Speak, which aims to provide speaker training and mentorship and to create an Indigenous Speakers Bureau, which will connect event organizers with powerful Indigenous voices. I am also in the early stages of developing a new podcast series on reconciliation, which aims to bring those unfamiliar with the space into the conversation in a meaningful way.