In 2018, the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce (GKWCC) launched the Access Student Talent program to address recruitment and retention gaps for small businesses in Waterloo Region. The goal of our program is to help connect small businesses with students from our education partners – Conestoga College, the University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University – for work-integrated learning opportunities. Access Student Talent has had a positive impact on the business community as well as our local post-secondary students and we are looking forward to broadening the reach of the program.
Work-integrated learning is a process of learning where students incorporate what they have learned academically into an experience working with an industry partner. There are a variety of different ways that businesses and students can work together, including:
Working with students can provide your business with benefits you may not have considered before. Firstly, when you choose to work with students, you gain access to up-to-date knowledge and fresh ideas directly from their coursework and experience. This allows for a low or no-cost option of support in your business for project work, planning, or day-to-day execution.
Another great reason to consider working with students is because it builds your business’ future talent pipeline and decreases your future training and recruitment costs. Typically work-integrated learning opportunities are short term and temporary, ranging from a few weeks to several months. If you use this opportunity to train a student on your business needs, you could consider taking them on as a future talent option and reduce the amount of time and energy required for additional training. The Access Student Talent program works with you to determine your needs, help connect you to the right people and educates you on how to engage with students for your business.
The Access Student Talent program is a GKWCC initiative that is a free service to our business community. Business owners do not have to hold a Chamber membership to work with our staff to make the right connections to work with students.
The program makes it easier for small businesses to engage with a student for work-integrated opportunities in a variety of low or no cost ways. There is some flexibility with these opportunities, allowing business owners to work with students at varying levels of time commitment. For instance, a business may work with students through a 6 week in-class project or businesses could work with co-op students for a 4-8 month period; the different options available will depend upon the business needs and the work-integrated learning opportunities within the programs.
Many areas in which we see small businesses requiring additional help include marketing and promotions, idea generation, and social media plans. It is common for small business owners to have special projects or ideas that are being pushed to the back burner in order to tend to the everyday workflow of operating a small business. Working with students is a great way to tackle projects or receive the support you have been looking for.
Small business owners can work with our team to discuss their business needs that students may be able to help with. We will actively search for the different work-integrated learning opportunities that fit with the business’ needs and summarize those options for consideration. If there is an option that your business would like to explore further, then we will introduce you with the appropriate contact at one of our educational partners. Our team is here to provide businesses with information about working with students; researching the opportunities, programs, and types of work-integrated learning that may suit the needs of a business; and, connecting businesses to the post-secondary schools.
The GKWCC has partnered with the Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) to help engage more local small businesses in work-integrated learning opportunities with students at our local post-secondary schools – Conestoga College, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. BHER is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization bringing together Canada’s largest companies and leading post-secondary institutions. Since 2015, BHER has worked to harness the strengths of Canada’s business and post-secondary education sectors to build opportunities for young Canadians, boost innovation and drive collaboration.
Our educational partners include local post-secondary institutions Conestoga College, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Waterloo Region is known for having a bustling student population due to the variety of educational opportunities nearby. This makes working with post-secondary students a great opportunity for local small businesses as there are a variety of programs offered at each school to cater to a plethora of business needs.
We will also be creating a how-to guide that can be used by other organizations across Canada who are interested in strengthening the connection between their business community and students.
Although it may seem daunting to work with a student for your small business, the Access Student Talent program is here to help with the transition. We currently have and will be hosting and sharing webinars, blogs and additional educational resources so you can feel confident in your hiring processes. The first step is to get connected to the right people. If you’re interested in learning more about the Access Student Talent program, contact us today!