“I can’t overstate the amount of value that we’ve gotten from being able to hire youth”: How hiring a student can give your small business a competitive edge

Posted: August 14, 2019

Chris Atwood understood the importance of social media for his business, but he wasn’t sure how to develop a plan that would build brand awareness or attract potential clients. After learning about the Halifax Partnership’s Experiential Learning Initiative, he knew that hiring a student would give him the advantage that he was looking for.

CBDC Blue Water is one of 41 Community Business Development Corporations (CBDCs) serving Atlantic Canada. It works to promote economic development in rural areas by providing financial assistance and technical services to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The Partnership connected Chris with a small business performance improvement course at Saint Mary’s University (SMU), where students were matched with a business to work on issues that the company is facing, providing students with real-world experience and practical application of their skills. Kati vanZutphen, a third year Commerce and Entrepreneurship student, was matched with Chris and began to identify a social media strategy that would work for his needs. Chris was so impressed by Kati’s business solution that he wanted to bring her on as an intern for the summer. However, like many small business owners, Chris struggled with finding the resources to hire a student.

“As a not-for-profit, we’re always sort of struggling with the financial resources to do these special projects. When Venture for Canada heard what we were trying to do, they were very excited to be a part of it.” Venture for Canada is a national charity which offers training, internship and fellowship programs, and hiring support for Canadian startups and small businesses. Chris was able to secure funding for a student position, and Kati began her internship with CBDC as soon as she finished her winter semester.

As the momentum of her social media strategy persisted, Chris began thinking of how they may be able to bring on another student to work with their clients on marketing and financial literacy, two things he says are often key components lacking in many of the small and medium sized businesses that they work with.

After reaching out to Summer Jobs Canada, Chris was able to receive funding to hire a second student, fourth-year SMU Bachelor of Commerce student Morgan Greencorn. The government-funded program provides wage subsidies for youth to small businesses.

“We hired Morgan to assist with outreach to our client base and to work with them one-on-one with tips for their social media marketing. Things all came together and the stars sort of aligned very well and very quickly.”

With both students providing client support and promoting the business, CBDC Blue Water has been attracting new clients, raising brand awareness, and building credibility through social platforms. “Our inquires over the months of June and July are up significantly,” says Chris. “Having Kati and having a social media presence is really working to CBDC’s advantage. Layer on the fact that Morgan is doing more outreach is leading to other exciting things. It’s been a great experience to bring on a couple of young people, and I can’t overstate the amount of value that we’ve gotten from being able to hire youth. These young ladies have been really busy in our community… I think they are doing a lot of really excited stuff, and I’m hearing a lot of interesting things from the businesses that they’re helping, including ourselves.”

Going into her fourth year at SMU, Kati has decided to major in Entrepreneurship and plans on staying closely connected to CBDC while she finishes her degree. Morgan is preparing for graduation in September, and remarks that her internship has been a complementary experience to her academic. “I love CBDC Blue Water. They’re an amazing company to work for. I love my co-workers and I love what I’m doing. If anything, it’s made me fall even more in love with my school and my degree.”

Hiring a student may seem like a distant reality for some small business owners, but CBDC Blue Water is an outstanding example of a rural business who took advantage of available resources to make it happen. Chris also has some words of wisdom for business owners who are interested in looking into hiring a student – reach out and ask questions.

“Be able to identify the resources that are out there to help you,” says Chris. “Initial discussions that I had with the Halifax Partnership and talking with our partners and support organizations helped a lot.”

To learn more about how experiential learning can benefit your business, click here or contact Julie Weir, Experiential Learning Program Coordinator at jweir@halifaxpartnership.com.


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