By Ashley Campbell, fourth-year Gustavson BCom student. Photo by Olivia Terretta.
For the last 18 years, an integral part of the Gustavson BCom core (third) year experience has been attending the Workplace Skills Conference (WPSC). This integrative and innovative educational event provides students with the opportunity to broaden their skill sets and prepare for successful careers by learning from, and engaging directly with, influential business leaders. This conference is the opportunity to build professional skills, learn from industry professionals and gain a better understanding of the transition from an academic to a workplace environment.
If someone had told me a year ago, while participating as a third-year student in the WPSC, that eight months later I would find myself sitting in the BCom program office preparing to manage the 2022 conference myself, I would probably tell you that you had the wrong person. But after almost five months of what can only be described as the most incredible and intense co-op experience, I find myself reflecting and looking back on this amazing adventure.
From day one my objective for this year’s conference became pretty clear. I wanted students to explore how to navigate challenges and examine ways of overcoming them to find success in the future. I wanted them to feel inspired to push past difficulties and to seek out new challenges. As the coordinator, I too wanted to take on a new challenge and use my experience as a student to develop new events and sessions that were engaging and valuable to this year’s attendees.
For me and many of my classmates, networking can be intimidating. Career fairs, for example, often felt awkward, and I would walk away with several pamphlets and a pen that didn’t work. One of the major components of the WPSC is to meet and network with a wide range of industry professionals, but the challenge for me was to develop an event where students did not walk away with that awkward “I just got networked” feeling.
I had two solutions. The first was what eventually became known as the Fireside Networking event. Developed from the idea of networking in a more casual setting, like over coffee, this event allowed students to have allocated time with this year’s industry sponsors in a more intimate setting of three-on-one chats. There was less pressure of moving through as many booths as possible, industry representatives met individually with a smaller number of students allowing for deeper connection and students were able to more confidently make new network connections.
Solution two, was to have industry sponsors host their skill workshop. This created the opportunity for students to walk away with a tangible skill. Topics ranged from our Silver Sponsor, Dialectica, teaching on mastering the art of the job interview to our other Silver Sponsor, BCI, introducing students to thematic investing. Our Gold Sponsor, CPABC, walked students through the journey of becoming a CPA. No matter what the topic, students challenged themselves to expand their skill set amongst a variety of industries and arguably walked away with a better understanding and connection than they would have at a typical career fair.
However, if I thought developing these two new sessions would be the only challenge that I would face during this co-op, I was sadly mistaken. The true challenge came when Plan B became reality. If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me, it is to contingency plan. In less than two weeks, the entirety of the WPSC was moved online and it was one of the most challenging few weeks that I have faced in my career so far. However, sitting here now, a week after the conference, I look back on those two weeks and am truly thankful that I got to experience them. I am thankful to the amazing Gustavson BCom team for their hard work and support, I am thankful to the speakers and sponsors for all of their flexibility and I know that I am walking away from this co-op with a newfound feeling of confidence in my ability to take on a challenge.
A piece of feedback that one of our keynote speakers, Julie Angus, received after the conference was: “Your story inspired me and gave me more faith in myself by showing me what could be possible if I put my mind to something.” For me hear that meant that I had met my goal. This conference and the work that went into it and all the challenges I had faced, had inspired at least one student to take on the challenge.