In a year marked by uncertainty and concern, it is no secret that small businesses have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a voice and advocate for the business community in the Greater Kitchener Waterloo area, our mission has always been to help our local businesses succeed; when businesses succeed, our community prospers. Now more than ever, the GKWCC provides resources, like Chamber Check, to help all types of local businesses cope with the challenges caused by COVID-19.
As restrictions start to ease and we slowly begin to shift into gradually reopening, businesses are seeking out opportunities for support to navigate the operational and financial challenges of reopening their business in a rapidly evolving landscape. The GKWCC’s Access Student Talent program has emerged as a key resource to help support businesses during their reopening and planning processes.
The Access Student Talent program works in partnership with our local post-secondary schools (Conestoga College, University of Waterloo, and Wilfrid Laurier University) to help connect our local small businesses with work-integrated learning opportunities in a variety of low to no-cost ways. The program, which is funded by the Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), aims to address and reduce barriers that small businesses face when interested in working with post-secondary students.
Through the free Access Student Talent program – which is open to Chamber members and non-members – we talk with businesses and non-profit organizations about the work-integrated learning options that are available to work with students; we research the options that a business may have for working with a student based on their business needs; we provide one-on-one advisory support; we connect businesses with the appropriate representative at the post-secondary school(s) based on the work-integrated learning options they are interested in exploring further.
Work-integrated learning (WIL) is an umbrella term describing the 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:
Work-integrated learning opportunities provide a wealth of benefits to businesses, students, educators and ultimately Canada’s economic recovery. Due to its versatile nature, the benefits of WIL are plentiful. Through work-integrated learning, businesses have the opportunity to access fresh and innovative student ideas. Post-secondary students often have been deeply immersed in the newest digital tools to experiment with, innovate and develop creative solutions.
Another benefit for small businesses is the reduced costs and risks of recruitment. Through work-integrated learning, businesses have the opportunity to evaluate and observe potential future hires before considering hiring them post-graduation. Once the student has immersed themselves in the workplace and had extensive training, recruitment and onboarding time and costs are reduced. Many employers choose to hire their highly skilled students after graduation because the student has knowledge about and experience in the role and workplace.
Many work-integrated learning opportunities are on a short-term basis which can be helpful for businesses who need some temporary support. Students can support businesses by working on projects that businesses have not had the time or expertise to complete. At different points during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GKWCC saw an increase in businesses looking for temporary support to strengthen their brand awareness and shift their business to online sales and services through the lockdown. Read more about how post-secondary students are helping businesses with marketing support here.
Working with students can be a great way for businesses to build their future talent pipelines.. Providing the opportunity for students to learn new skills and experiences prepares them to be workforce ready upon graduation. The GKWCC has focuses on initiatives that serve as a catalyst for our business community’s success; work-integrated learning fosters economic growth and supports the local business climate. Students are an untapped resource that can drive productivity and support your small business while simultaneously strengthening the future talent pool.
As you begin to reopen your business, consider the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce’s Access Student Talent program to help with the planning and the resources. Our program shares webinars, blogs, and additional educational resources so you can feel confident as you explore how a post-secondary student might help your businesses. 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!