The Chamber’s New Initiative: Access Student Talent

With over one-third of the workforce being age 55 or over, a talent gap is on the horizon (Vander Wier, Will the uneven job market for youth improve in 2018?, p. 2, 2018). As more and more of these employees rapidly reach the age of retirement, it is important to partner to build for a better future for Ontario and ensure our young talent have the skill set needed for our ever changing job market whilst driving innovation and growth in our communities. This is especially true for small businesses. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce 2016 report Obstacles and Opportunities, small businesses make up 98% of businesses and two-thirds of all private sector employment in Ontario.

The Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce (GKWCC) has partnered with the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU), and Conestoga College (CC) on an exciting new project to help small businesses more easily connect with post-secondary students through low cost or no cost ways including co-op work terms, project work, as well as other experiential learning opportunities.

Experiential Learning is not limited to hiring an intern or a co-op student but is a diverse term that covers any experience where a student’s theoretical knowledge can be applied. Some examples of experiential learning include practicum, capstone projects, apprenticeships, interactive simulations and more!

As a small business, having a college or university student work with you will not only help with productivity, but will also be a source of fresh and innovative ideas into the workplace. Post-secondary students from a variety of academic disciplines are looking for experiential learning opportunities and are equipped with up-to-date knowledge and skills that can help you and your business. With available tax incentives, engaging with a student is a cost effective solution to the potential talent gap in your organization. By participating, you can also start to build your talent pipeline. Hiring former students who have worked with you in the past leads to a decrease in future recruitment and training costs.Businesses understand that hiring contract workers provide an easier pathway to show good quarterly results (Vander Wier, Will the uneven job market for youth improve in 2018?, p. 2, 2018). Students are an untapped source of temporary employment that can drive productivity and innovation in the community.

Experiential learning helps students transition to employment and build the transferrable skills needed in today’s job market. Experiential Learning is real-life learning; a student is able to learn by doing, using their theoretical knowledge in practical, work-related situations (Partnering for a Better Future for Ontario, p.8, 2017). Through partnerships between small businesses and post-secondary schools, students across a variety of disciplines gain real-world experience by applying their skills and knowledge in a range of opportunities. Students gain invaluable experience in their field and small businesses are able to be more productive.

To get involved or more information on this initiative, please visit us at