Alison Garwood Jones

What Employers Are Looking For

November 20, 2023

Opera glasses illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

This morning, a smart student reached out and asked if she could join me for Office Hours later this week. She wants to know, “What are employers looking for right now?”

People who sign up for my digital strategy and writing courses quickly learn that I believe in the Church of Creativity and Eternal Learning, but I suspect she is reacting to those times in class when I let honesty get ahead of hope with nakedly chilling statements like:

“Marketing is an absolute mess right now.”


“You’re here because you know that writing is the best way to assert your agency and figure out what you know. And if you feel a bit sick right now that’s because AI has turned both of those things upside-down.”

By the way, it doesn’t feel right calling this colleague “a student,” although she is enrolled in my “Writing Digital Content” course at the University of Toronto (SCS).

And, while I’m technically the instructor, the only thing I’m in full control of right now are the admin settings on our recurring Zoom meetings.

As for knowing what the future applications for writing and content marketing will be, no one individual or institution is hoarding all the answers, although some pretend to judging by their ads.

Here’s what I do know: you can proactively research what needs are not being met in companies, pick one, and get really good at that. Before you know it, you’ll be standing in front of them shaking your Christmas bells and singing, “I’ve got a tool that can transcribe that podcast for you in less than a minute. Next, have you considered …?”

Your can start your research here.  Last week, Deloitte’s Future of Canada Centre dropped a report — Digital Equity: Empowering All Organizations to Succeed in the Digital Era — citing a list of needs employers are having a tough time filling.

The report, conducted between August 2022 and March 2023, interviewed 804 Canadian senior business leaders in the private, non-profit and public sectors, with special attention on small and medium-sized enterprises.

It asked leaders what their biggest ongoing employee challenges were. Remember, those challenges could be your next job. All you need is the courage to put in the prep work, then pitch yourself as the solution (even when you don’t feel ready yet):

Job Opportunity # 1:
67 per cent of organizations with over 10 employees say hiring digitally skilled workers is somewhat or very challenging, which rises to 70 per cent for medium (100-499 employees) and large organizations (500 employees or more).

Here’s Your Chance to:
Enrol in university continuing ed classes to keep improving your digital literacy and your mindset towards tech. Remember to showcase your updated certifications on LinkedIn while you are pitching future employers. And if you are currently enrolled in classes that teach you how to update and expand your digital skills, well then, you are ALREADY DOING what future employers need you to do so they can hire you! Remember: companies today are hiring for skills, not degrees (my two degrees are in Art History, for crying out loud).

Job Opportunity #2:
A majority (58%) of survey respondents say uncertainty about which technologies would be most beneficial to their organization is somewhat or very challenging. Challenges include a lack of in-house specialized tech experience to shape digital strategies in areas like SEO, Data Analytics, and AI apps that improve customer insights and decision-making.

Here’s Your Chance to:
Fire up your research and writing skills and commit to building a list of the SAAS products currently trending your industry. Do you have your eye on company with a mission you admire, but whose tech know-how may need updating? The answers to who this company is, what they need, and what SAAS tools might serve them best is a LinkedIn, ChatGPT and Google search away. Reach out and find out how their tech transformation is proceeding, and offer your help. BTW: People who come to my classes identifying as Writers and Comms Professionals have their eyes opened during sessions on Generative AI use cases, SEO tactics, navigating Google Analytics 4 and a sprinkling of UX design. Yes, we talk specific tools.

Job Opportunity #3: 
The report says companies who are having troubles finding and retaining digital talent need to think strategically about their talent value proposition and how it can speak better to digital and tech talent – including by being purpose/mission-forward.

Here’s Your Chance to:
Remind yourself what SMART objectives are, how you set them, why they are essential to business growth, and why you should ask a company to share its business objectives with you. Do they align with your values and what impact will this work have beyond the company? My Digital Comms Strategy Course tackles SMART Objectives and demonstrates how they provide a road map to help navigate people, processes, and systems.

Job Opportunity #4:
The Canadian Federal Government has funding to help support digital adoption in the workplace, but companies aren’t accessing it, either because their programs were never marketed properly, their webpages weren’t optimized for search, their application process wasn’t sufficiently streamlined, or All of the Above.

Here’s Your Chance to:
Build a Google Doc linking to all the current available government funding programmes, and make it public. Then pitch the development director or CFO of a non-profit you’d like to work at and find out if they are aware of this cache of untapped funding? Your research and reporting abilities could get you in the door.

Job Opportunity #5:
Progress is lagging on laws and policies that accelerate digital adoption.

Here’s Your Chance to: 
Think about a career in public policy at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED). IP law, with a focus on AI and copyright, will also provide you with years of opportunities.

The report goes on to show opportunity gaps in other areas including: data protection and privacy, cybersecurity, and connectivity in rural and low-income communities. I’ve only highlighted a few to get you started.

In the meantime, keep your mind and heart open and look for ways that workplace knowledge and operations are falling behind.

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Penelope Fitzgerald on Builders & Takers

November 13, 2023

Occasionally, a novelist comes along who distracts me from my love of biographies.

Enter Penelope Fitzgerald, the English novelist and author of The Bookshop.

Portrait of a woman with Eugene Waves by Alison Garwood-Jones

I’ve decided this drawing is her protagonist, Florence Green. Florence’s honest attempts to open a jewell of a bookshop in her seaside English town were destroyed by the coordinated efforts of a status-hungry social climber, indifferent bank managers, and corrupt solicitors. There are no happy or romantic endings in this book (the only romance is with books).

The way Fitzgerald describes how decent, powerless people confront and move through failure is breathtaking. She famously believed that the real division in life, the only one that matters, is that between the ‘exterminators and the exterminatees, with the former, at any given moment predominating.’”

It’s hard to follow that sentence, except to say that Fitzgerald handles the harshness of life with clarity and even wonder.

Drawn in Procreate #ClassicOilBrushes #1920sPalette

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November gales

November 3, 2023

Abstract Art by Alison Garwood-JonesI drew this in the Procreate app using an Apple Pencil. I felt lighter when I finished it.

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Why I Love Old TV Commercials

September 1, 2023

If you want to time travel back to your parents’ rec room and hang out with your 10-year-old self, play these YouTube compilations of old TV commercials as you go about your day.

“Nobody can do it like McDonald’s can” 

“Coffee Mate tastes great (repeat) 

“Brush your breath, brush your breath, brush your breath with Dentyne!”

To get you started, here’s a reel from the 1970s.
And another one from the 1980s.

In times of wrenching change, I can’t tell you how fun and comforting it is to hear the familiar Apple Jax jingle, or the the Bits ‘n Bites guy kicking back in his hammock and extending a bowl of munchies my way.

The armchair sociologist in me is amazed to see how far women have come since the time of Love’s Baby Soft and Spic & Spam. If you’re still convinced no progress has been made — the overturn of Roe v. Wade will make you feel that way — this will hearten you.

In the 1970s, girls in commercials were consistently portrayed as pigtailed and beribboned little darlings. They hung out in groups and spent most of their time playing inside with dolls or stirring and loading small cakes into toy ovens. They rarely hoisted themselves up inside treehouses or got out of breath like the boys.

In reality, there were plenty of girls who swung from trees and bombed down hills on their bikes. Some of us made sure the whole neighbourhood could hear the flatulent trail coming from the cardboard flaps strumming against our bike spokes. But to be a biker chick AND the proud owner of a toy oven …  well, that was too many contradictions for most brains.

The sugar-and-spice cutie pies have been replaced by the STEM girls and soccer champs. Thank god.

As for grown women, they were divided into the following categories:

•  Housewife in the cotton house dress who got her hair set once a week and was always complaining about tough stains

•  Bossy manicurist with an eye for great hands

•  The sex kitten with a whispery voice and the killer bod. She was always raking her long, manicured nails (courtesy of Madge) through the chest hair of some moustachioed catalogue model whose musky scent came through loud and clear. Oh, and she could sing and sashay like Marilyn serenading all the presidents’ men.

• And there was the dingbat. Here’s a sample:

From my 2023 perch, none of these women (except for the bossy manicurist) could be counted on to tell the truth. Tell us how you really feel about cottage cheese and lettuce, your middle kid’s personality, bad sex, shitty pay, and your boss’s tongue. Madge balanced her own books, so she could speak her mind without fear of repercussions. The rest of them smiled through everything.

Let’s face it, women in commercials weren’t real women. They were men’s ideas of women, minus anything remotely impressive or nuanced.

But wait, you say, what about all of those commercials about our intimate odour problems?  Or, the wet blankets that kept getting thrown over our weekend plans to go swimming in a white bikini? Those told the truth, didn’t they? Again, those were male advertising execs putting their stamp on our body’s unpredictable blooms, and shaming us into buying products they were inventing and selling to control that stuff.

Talking about the persistence of the male lens in framing the female experience isn’t new. But it’s only been about 20 years since the concept moved out of academia and into popular culture. By the 2010s, words like “manspreading” and “mansplaining started getting tossed around like frisbees on a bright summer day. (Imagine trying those words out on Burt Reynolds in 1977). And while some say “Enough already,” I say, it takes time and a nauseating amount of repetition to actually reverse old cultural norms.

Habits only die and behaviours only change when we highlight the errors of our past ways and explain the new outcomes we’re going for with the same frequency we try and teach toddlers to say please and thank you. Eventually the concepts stick.

Unless, of course, a few bad men decide to deploy tanks and erase it all. I’ll need some fries with that thought.

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My First Student With a Job in AI

August 30, 2023

A few weeks after a posted this, the University of Toronto (SCS) published an interview with the talented student I profile in this blog.

SCS Digital Communications Course Prompts Learner to Explore Exciting New AI Career


Earlier this month, I got an email from a former student who said she was moving on from a career as a digital content specialist to take on an AI-centric role. This was a first.

I have a nose for turning points, and seeing a content marketer re-configure her “Web 2.0 work self” into an AI-first knowledge worker was strong evidence for me that the future is already here.

If you’re still confused by all of the clear-as-mud hype about how AI will affect your job, I hope this post clarifies some of the changes this new internet is steering us all towards.

Raquel signed up for two of my classes at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies:

  1. Writing Digital Content (Summer 2021)
  2. Foundations of Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media (Winter 2023).

She came to class with massive amounts of experience creating content marketing and executing distribution strategies for big Canadian brands in the music, health and fitness, and food and drink sectors. Years of networking, learning on the job, and upskilling with con-ed classes made her really good at:

  • Content marketing and multimedia storytelling
  • Copywriting
  • Social media marketing
  • Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned distribution tactics
  • Audio storytelling (she has her own drinkology podcast What R You Drinking? and was an online radio host before that)
  • Event planning and management

BTW, this is the calibre of “student” who signs up for my courses. If I start to slip into complacency as an instructor, it’s students like Raquel who drop-kick my ass across the field and into the stands.

In both classes, Raquel was a bulldozer about learning and asked the smartest (most unsettling) questions about industry changes that were starting to come into focus. And this was before the ChatGPT bomb drop last November.

What’s going on?

In 2021, digital marketing’s accepted best practices — tactics that had been working for a dozen years — weren’t working as well anymore. Raquel wanted to know why. And, more importantly, what could be done about it? At that point, the fixes and workarounds I was hoping to find and share with my students were washed out to sea the moment AI started elbowing search to the sidelines.

Fast forward to January 2023 when Raquel signed up for her second class with me, Foundations of Digital Communications Strategy and Social Media. ChatGPT had been on the scene for five weeks when we gathered for our first webinar. It was early days, but not for long.

Each week, I started integrating Generative AI updates and demos into our class discussions about blogging and content calendars. Our heads were swimming with questions about how such traditional digital assets and tactics could possibly co-exist with the spewing power of chatbots.

At one point, Raquel emailed me wondering what she had signed up for. I sensed she was on the verge of dropping out. I don’t blame her,  I was steering the course in a new direction that didn’t exactly match the course described in the calendar at sign-up time. Here is how Raquel described her confusion in a LinkedIn recap a few weeks ago:

“I felt I had registered for the wrong course … Little did I know it would lead me to exactly where I want to be.”


Single apple

My courses have always been less about passing on formulas for success and more about figuring out how to respond to and capitalize on change as online storytellers and creative entrepreneurs. Note: Content marketing isn’t dead, it’s just entering a very different chapter.

From Content Marketer to AI Prompt Writer

So where is Raquel now? As summer comes to a close, she is finishing up her final deliverables for the “Prompt Engineering for ChatGPT” Certificate through Coursera and Vanderbilt University (PS: like Raquel, all of us will be upskilling until our final breath). But here’s the kicker:

Last month she accepted a full-time contract job as an AI Prompt Writer at TEKsystems on assignment for Meta (parent company to Facebook). She is responsible for the composition, evaluation, and analysis of prompts that fuel an AI chatbot’s interactions and responses.

That job did not exist last January, but the idea of that job started to come into focus during the last half of our 12-week course (i.e. by about March 2023), a time when all of us were wondering out loud if “prompt engineering” would be a skill or a job title. I’d argue it’s both.

It’s worth pointing out that Raquel does not have a computer engineering degree or advanced coding skills. She’s a storyteller, an artsy with a head for strategy and an openness to change.


Let’s review: in the span of eight months, Raquel went from managing digital marketing campaigns for multiple corporate clients to being someone who thought “it was a good idea to pursue this thing called AI.” As I write this, she is actively rethinking how to use all of the skills she spent the last decade acquiring.

It takes energy and courage to turn your life towards a new horizon and an unknowable future. Raquel let me know that her chihuahua, Harley, boosts her courage every day, as only dogs can.

I plan to invite Raquel to be a guest speaker in class this fall. I know we’ll all benefit from her stories from the front lines of change.

For the rest of us, letting go of our earlier selves and ending our quest for wins that don’t exist anymore is arguably one of the hardest things we’ll ever have to do. It’s the end of a relationship to ourselves.

Sooner or later, we’ll all be asked to pack our bags and move on to the next big thing.

AI won’t kill content marketing, but content marketers who use AI (like Raquel) will definitely replace those who don’t. The same can be said of instructors. The Marketing AI Institute put it best:

Marketing AI Institute

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Don’t Google Yourself, Try Binging

August 3, 2023

No pretty pictures today • All business

To my writer friends trying to improve their online presence (all of us):

Don’t Google yourself, starting “Binging” your name.

Find out what sources Chat GPT-4 in collaboration with Bing search are using to tell your story. This story is what prospects will see and believe.

My results were:

• littered with incorrect facts
• pulled from outdated sources
• skipped my website altogether (what’s an About Page for? And I love my blog *sniff*)

If a chat output doesn’t mention my website, the likelihood of someone searching for it isn’t good.

The results when I Binged myself
Final Thoughts: It looks like it’s up to me to increase and update my earned media mentions. I need to be featured in more podcasts and website profiles by others where I can remind listeners and readers: “You can find me over at“. Those increased mentions will become text that gets picked up in the next round of training the models. And, “for the record, I graduated from Queen’s University, and I never wrote for The Walrus.” But that’s my past, not my present. It’s not relevant anymore.

To be continued …

#PESO #UnbrandedSearch #BrandedSearch #GenerativeAI

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Long for yourself

July 28, 2023

A young woman of colour longing for herself by Alison Garwood-Jones

In 1967, she was thinking: air hostess (for the glamour), nurse, or “office girl” — charm and efficiency a must.

In 2023, she is thinking about algorithms, AI, black holes, oncology, stories with blockbuster movie potential, Odyssey translations, power structures, and true crime. She is still being instructed to improve her hair, her voice, her figure, her walk, her kids, her home, etc. … But the joy of applying herself is stronger than the drumbeat of criticism.

Keep going, sisters.

As Sinéad O’Connor said not long ago: “I consider myself a woman of the past, of the ’70s and ’80s. We were raised to long for a man. We weren’t raised to long for ourselves. [I guess my message for younger women is]: Long for yourself.”

Quote: “Sinéad O’Connor: 25 minutes with the most misunderstood woman in music” (2014), Reposted on July 26, 2023.

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July 28, 2023

My Art Desk is My True North Strong and Free - illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Heading North

July 18, 2023

Grey Country, Highway 27, Ontario

July 2022: Front seat art is the best way to pass the time on the way up north. The scene en route to Georgian Bay is all puffy clouds and miles of yellow mustard fields. Ontario, you’re gorgeous.

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The Ink Spot

June 26, 2023

Are you curious to try the new AI features inside PhotoShop?

Here’s a one-minute tutorial on where to find it and how to start using it.

In this example, I wanted to add an AI-generated background to my drawing of a beagle.

After uploading a transparent png file of my dog drawing, I prompted the bot to generate a background image of “the Lake Ontario shoreline.”

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