BCBusiness + BC Innovation Council

A great way to jumpstart a student’s career is on-the job training, and a great way to improve a small business’s bottom line is bringing in fresh talent.  But for small and start-up businesses, finding the budget to add staff can be a challenge, and for students, finding on the job training that pays can be rare.

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To bridge this gap, the BC Innovation Council’s BC Tech Co-op Grants Program can provide funding of up to $10,800 per year to help alleviate challenges for small businesses, and for students trying to make the transition from studies to professional life.

BCIC’s Director of Programs, Dawn Wood, says since its inception in 2015 there has been a strong demand for co-op students, with numbers trending upward – by the beginning of 2018 the program has seen over a thousand students successfully placed with small businesses in BC.

“It gives [businesses] immediate access to bright, innovative, talented students who are eager to work, eager to learn, and in the long-run for the Province of British Columbia’s tech companies, this means students will be graduating with on-the job training,” Wood said.

Wood added that non-tech companies can also hire through the program– as long as it’s for a tech role within the organization.

“Very often, we find that it’s a non-tech company that’s trying to build a platform or create a new database or automate systems that were analog prior,” she said.  

The program’s requirements are that companies applying must be established in BC, and fit the definition of a small business: having less than a hundred employees.

Rob Clifford is the co-founder of Calico Logic, a Vancouver- based software development company that specializes in developing customized Android and iOS applications for a range of clients, from start-ups to enterprise level.

Calico has used the grant the six times, with three students currently working – taking on tasks that existing staff simply don’t have time for.

“It’s helped us grow – we bring them in as part of a team, and task them with anything we would a full-time employee," Clifford said. 

“We don’t segregate them into co-op tasks, we onboard them…so they are actually working on apps, not just doing unit tests or data entry. They’re definitely going to be writing code.”

Clifford said students are coming in with a solid grasp of fundamentals, and need to learn processes.

“Learning is definitely a two-way street,” he said. “There’s a chance that they’ve found something I’ve never heard of or seen – I’m always learning when I see what they can come up with.”

Kelowna’s Mazu Technologies creates content messaging platforms for families that filter content – blocking negative language and imagery –making social media a safer environment for children.

Mazu’s founder and CEO Janice Taylor agreed that co-op students have an impact on where the company is headed. Out of the three students who have come through the program – two have been hired as junior front-end developers, working to build a moderation tool that enables parents to see and approve content.

“I’m not technical as a CEO and founder of a company. But I had a very specific sense of how I wanted the emails and communication to look like, visually,” Taylor said. “They code it to bring it to life- it’s really fascinating.”

“They really know what is current and what is happening in the technology sphere. They offer value because how they see the world, versus me, who’s been out of school for 20 years – it's a landmine of difference.”

Taylor said having the support of the grant’s subsidy makes it possible to train students, and once trained, they can become a critical piece of the puzzle.

“I think it’s our duty, as small businesses, to collaborate with academia and colleges, as well as what’s happening in real life – there’s always this gap between the two.”

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Created by BCBusiness in partnership with BC Innovation Council