How Students Can Help: A Discussion with Small Businesses

On September 29th, 2021, the Access Student Talent Program hosted the Greater KW Chamber’s Business Success Webinar Series to hear from small businesses and a not-for-profit organization about how students have helped support them. We were joined by panelists Bonita Eby of Breakthrough Personal & Professional Development and Fawzia Khan of Women That Give as they shared their experiences working with post-secondary students from Conestoga College and the University of Waterloo. Our third panelist, Corrin Bleskie from H2R Business Solutions, was unable to join us in the webinar but sent feedback about their experience engaging with students from Wilfrid Laurier University, which was shared during the webinar. Continue reading to learn more about the questions we asked our panelists and what they had to share regarding their experience working with students.

What tasks and projects were given to the students?

There are many ways that organizations can work with students that vary in cost, time, supervision requirements, deliverables and more. All three of our panelists engaged with students in fully virtual work-integrated learning experiences. Each panelist shared details on what tasks and projects they gave students that best supported their business needs during that time. Fawzia Khan of Women That Give shared that students from the University of Waterloo’s EDGE program provided business development support by helping cultivate donors, partners, and sponsors for the non-profit organization. The students also focused on marketing and communications efforts such as preparing and publishing social media posts to build brand awareness.

Breakthrough Personal & Professional Development owner, Bonita Eby, shared that she had engaged with a student from the Public Relations program at Conestoga College. The student was tasked with copywriting and designing social media posts. Bonita highlighted that the design work the student was able to produce was very valuable for their business and very creative.

Corrin Bleskie, Human Resources Consultant of H2R Business Solutions (H2R) shared that they worked with a group of students from Wilfrid Laurier University. As part of the students’ course requirements, they developed a social media plan, which included content and posting schedules along with an in-depth analysis of H2R’s target market and how to effectively reach their ideal audience. A benefit of engaging with students is that they can bring fresh and innovative ideas, which is exactly what H2R experienced. The students introduced their business to tools and software that they hadn’t used before, including Hootsuite, which helps make social media management much easier.

Allison Mitchell, Program Manager of the Access Student Talent Program moderated our webinar and she shared her experience working with six co-op students from each of our local post-secondary schools: Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier and the University of Waterloo. With the goal of expanding the Access Student Talent Program initiative, she had students focus marketing efforts and business development and outreach.

Why did you want to engage with students?

Our panelists described what influenced their initial decision to start exploring working with students. Bonita shared that as a solo entrepreneur, doing every task for her business is often difficult and too time-consuming. A student can work alongside a business and lighten the load of tasks to be completed. Additionally, the idea of being able to work with skilled students who were passionate about the work they produced was a large influence for Bonita.

Allison shared that at Access Student Talent Program’s origin, she was working on all aspects of the initiative on her own. Like Bonita, Allison understood that doing every task for the program wasn’t optimal for growing the program. Engaging with students allowed for the expansion of the Access Student Talent Program, with an increased business outreach. In addition, working with students gave Allison valuable insight into the student work-integrated learning experience. She was able to continue to build the program with the student’s perspectives and feedback in mind.

Fawzia shared that in addition to the time constraints faced by small organizations like theirs, Women That Give wanted to tap into temporary resources to support fund development and stakeholder management efforts, along with social media marketing to increase awareness for their cause. They decided that post-secondary students were a great temporary resource for helping achieve those goals. As an organization made up entirely of a small group of volunteers, receiving additional support to achieve their mission was highly valuable.

Corrin of H2R Business Solutions shared that they didn’t have the expertise in-house to effectively market their business to their intended audience. In addition to getting the students’ fresh ideas and perspectives, H2R wanted to use the connections that the students had to the local community to get a better understanding of what people wanted to see in terms of the services they could offer.

Reaching out to the Access Student Talent Program team is the first step in supporting employers to help identify their business needs and how students can provide support. Through our one-on-one support, we work to learn more about the needs of an organization and based on that information, we research the different options that businesses may have for working with students that best meet their business needs.

How did your organization benefit from working with students?

Corrin shared that the students provided H2R with high-quality presentations and detailed reports that contained strategies, ideas, and content that they could easily deploy themselves. The students provided all the digital copies of their work, which enabled H2R to start implementing the social media content and strategies right away, which saved them time and money.

Fawzia highlighted that Women That Give was focusing on launching their COVID-19 Relief Support (CRS) Program and had students focus their efforts on securing donors, partners, and sponsors. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in demand for materials such as masks, sanitizers and feminine hygiene products for women. Working with students helped to ease the growing demand for the products and services provided by Women That Give. The students also helped to secure many donors and sponsors. They also shared that a student had continued to work with their organization at the end of their formal work-integrated learning experience, on a part-time basis. Through this opportunity, Women That Give made incredible partnerships with donors, sponsors, and students in the community.

Bonita shared that receiving marketing support from a student gave her the opportunity to focus her time and efforts on what she did best – executive coaching, creating workshops, and developing culture transformations. By having the student create materials that they excelled at, it allowed Bonita to excel in her areas of expertise, helping expand the business overall.

Allison shared that the students’ eagerness and willingness to learn really helped bring in creative and innovative ideas for the Access Student Talent program. Allison was introduced to database platforms she had not used before, increased the program’s business outreach, and launched marketing strategies created alongside the students. Working with students was a key factor into how the program was able to expand and be the success it is today.

What advice would you give other small businesses or organizations that are thinking about working with a student?

Bonita highlighted a method that she used that worked well for her when onboarding the student: she worked with the student to find their strengths to help maximize their learning and working potential. Using HIGH5’s free strengths test to understand and implement the student’s optimal working style helped to yield far better work and results from the student, rather than working in a style that didn’t come naturally to them. Bonita also made sure to develop trust between herself and the student. She shared that trust was an important element that allowed the student to feel comfortable making mistakes, communicating them, and understanding that feedback, both negative and positive, would be given and well received.

Fawzia shared that she made sure to allot a couple of days to onboard the students and familiarize them with the Women That Give organization, policies, and expectations. She shared that if any small businesses are planning to work with a student, it is important to understand that with a bit of training and direction, students can make a huge difference to businesses and organizations through their eagerness to learn and innovative ideas.

Corrin’s advice to small businesses that are considering working with students were summed up into two words: do it! So many benefits come from the experience including building a business’s talent pipeline. As a business grows their team, working with students helps decrease the recruitment and training costs. The experience is as beneficial and educational for both the students as well as the business, making it a win-win opportunity.

All three panelists agreed that connecting with the Access Student Talent program and the post-secondary schools as early as possible was very important. Post-secondary schools tend to recruit employers and industry partners approximately a semester in advance. Reaching out to the Access Student Talent team early will give a business greater flexibility and better access to the opportunities that run each semester. For example, if a business would like to work with a student during the Winter semester (January to April), reaching out during the Fall Semester (September-December) would be a great idea.

Watch the webinar

If you would like to watch the full webinar to hear more from these organizations on their experience working with post-secondary students, click here or watch the video below. The Access Student Talent Program is happy to discuss your business needs and work to connect you with the appropriate people. If you are interested in learning more about how a student can support your business, contact us today!