The ways that we work and do business have changed, in many ways permanently, over the pandemic. For small and medium-sized business owners already stretched thin by capacity challenges and the need to build back from pandemic losses, the prospect of recruiting, training and managing new talent can seem an especially daunting task in this new environment. However, what seems like a barrier may in fact be an opportunity for SMEs to grow in new and unexpected ways.
The good news for talent-seeking SMEs is that the candidate pool in Canada has never been more educated or highly skilled. In 2019, we reached an all-time high of 73% of Canadians aged 25 to 34 with a postsecondary qualification, a staggering 14% increase since 2009. Yet the pandemic has disrupted the campus-to-industry talent pipeline. Many students saw their work placements and internships stalled or cancelled altogether. Networking events and conferences were less frequent, and many new graduates shifted to a hybrid or remote job search.
What this means is that there are many students out there eager for opportunities to gain real-world experience, and they are willing to forego traditional internships in favour of more innovative, remote working models.
We recently learned about a new program designed to help connect SMEs with top student talent from across the country. The Level UP Program, created by Riipen during the height of the pandemic, offers businesses the opportunity to host flexible work placements for students, which can be completed at a distance. Funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Innovative Work-Integrated Learning initiative, the program is completely subsidized for participating businesses, with students receiving their compensation directly from Riipen.
Unlike traditional in-person, four-month internships, the Level UP model is project-based and flexible. A student or team of students can complete their 80-hour project from anywhere, and take advantage of these opportunities to grow their experience and gain mentorship. It provides them with access to high-demand opportunities and career prospects they may never have considered before while building real-world experience and the entrepreneurial mindset coveted by employers and recruiters.
For the hosting SME, this model helps reduce the capacity strain associated with traditional internships, while boosting productivity and increasing access to innovative thinking. The project-based nature of the program allows SMEs to direct student efforts towards a specific business goal, and there are no limits to the number of projects a business can put forward.
Another advantage is that businesses are not limited to their geographic region. They can select the best candidate or candidates that meet the needs of their project, wherever they are located. When it comes time for recruitment, businesses can hone in on these new networks to scale up and potentially expand into new markets.
The program has proven popular with SMEs and students alike. Since the program’s launch last year, Level UP has delivered more than 6,000 fully subsidized remote student placements in companies and organizations across the country. The waitlist alone had over 20,000 businesses and students wanting to take part.
Owing to the success of the pilot project, the federal government has greatly expanded the funding of the program to allow for an additional 18,000 remote placements over the next two years. This is an incredible opportunity for small and midsize business owners to access smart, diverse, and fully subsidized student talent that can help support the productivity and the long-term growth of their organization.
Businesses and students interested in participating in the Level UP program can visit Riipen’s website for more details on how to apply: https://www.riipen.com/levelup.