At a time when small businesses could use some extra help, a group of Brock University co-op students stepped up to lend a hand and connect with the community.
Thanks to funding from the Government of Canada through the Canada Summer Jobs program, 18 Brock co-op students spent the Fall Term working on short-term projects for approximately 25 local businesses in conjunction with the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
Ranging from charitable organizations and restaurants to cleaning and construction companies, the students each partnered with multiple firms to deliver strategic solutions to short-term issues while continuing to foster the culture of meaningful community engagement Brock is known for.
Bachelor of Business Administration student Andrea Mora Vasquez is part of a team of four students that completed several projects, including social media marketing, web design and helping to implement food delivery.
She said the varying tasks expanded her appreciation for the dedication needed to operate a small business as well as how students can contribute new ideas that create relationships that support Niagara’s economic development.
“This is many people’s life’s work and their skills are very diverse,” she said. “It’s been an honour to help them make major changes and address issues they may not have had the time or capacity to work on in the past.”
One of the projects Mora Vasquez’s team took on was revamping the job postings of local cleaning company Professional Cleaning Specialists (PCS) of Niagara. After speaking with the owners about their needs, the team set about rewording job descriptions and ensuring they were posted to sites where they would get the most exposure.
“After only a few days, one new posting had 75 applicants and had been viewed more than 2,000 times,” said Mora Vasquez.
PCS Vice-President Annette Marchionda said the efforts of the team provided welcome expertise.
“There was an immediate response from the team,” she said. “I gave them control and they developed it. They put a scope together first, made sure they would be doing what I wanted to accomplish, and then put a presentation together about what they saw. They helped get our branding consistent, and attracted lots of candidates, all within three weeks.”
Mora Vasquez said the work was also beneficial to the students’ own career ambitions.
“I have learned so many new skills,” she said. “I have a new appreciation for communication, organization, software design and photography that I didn’t know before, and all of these things will help me in my career.”
Working with local businesses has been similarly transformative for Bachelor of Accounting student Thanujan Theivendrarajah, who spent part of his time in the program helping Niagara Concrete Canada build a new financial tracking system.
In all of the projects his team completed, Theivendrarajah said the outcomes were mutually beneficial.
“They have welcomed us, supported our ideas and used them even after we left,” he said. “It’s nice to see what we are doing is being used, especially during such a difficult time. It’s small things but it helps them so much.”
Niagara Concrete Canada Vice-President Gary MacGregor hoped to continue his company’s new partnership with the University going forward.
“It was a pleasure working with the students,” he said. “It was useful, and I enjoyed the experience so much that I am hoping to hire a co-op student in January.”
Dana Tonus, Brock’s Manager, Employer Relations and Special Initiatives, who led and executed the initiative, said the program served as a showcase for the commitment and talents of Brock co-op students.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with what the students have been able to achieve under such unique circumstances,” she said. “They accomplished so much in such a short period of time. These students had no previous consulting experience, and yet they were able to jump into this role, learn quickly and achieve consistent success.
“Our employer partners are so impressed with their efforts and the positive impact they have made across the region. Brock students can make a huge difference in our community.”
Tony Baldinelli, Member of Parliament for Niagara Falls, said the Canada Summer Jobs program provides tangible benefits for young people looking for work and supports the needs of local employers seeking help.
“Through Brock University, youth were able to support Niagara area employers, who provided valuable job experiences that will help these students prepare for their future careers,” he said. “I am very pleased to hear about the overall positive and rewarding experiences gained through this important program, especially at such a challenging time this year with the global health pandemic.”
Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament for Niagara Centre, said the program was beneficial to all stakeholders.
“We said to students that we would help them through this pandemic and the expanded Canada Summer jobs program was a part of that,” he said. “The program provides post-secondary institutions, businesses and community organizations to hire students who are eager to learn and gain real-world experience. It also gives students the ability to work and gain meaningful skills that will help them in their future careers. I’m thrilled that Brock University was able to utilize this program and give students those meaningful skills and experiences.”
Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament for St. Catharines, was also pleased with the program’s success.
“The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an important way to provide real-world experience to students and recent graduates,” said Bittle. “This year, students funded through the program at Brock University have been able to provide great assistance to local businesses as they adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. This not only helps businesses now, it helps students prepare for work in a post-pandemic economy.”
As a way to celebrate all involved, there will be a virtual recognition event Thursday, Dec. 17 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. After opening remarks from Provost and Vice-President, Academic Lynn Wells, there will be an overview of completed projects as well as highlights of individual skill development by student consultants and business supported.
Anyone interested in learning more about the initiative is invited to participate in the recognition event and to register on Eventbrite.