We recently sat down with Val Walker, Chief Executive Officer at BHER, to learn more about her organization and the launch of its most recent initiative, the Canada Comeback Challenge. Here’s what she had to say and what you need to know to participate in a Canada-wide challenge competition that will help shape our nation’s future economy and workforce.
Q: What is the main purpose of the Business + Higher Education Roundtable and how does it serve to support university and college students across Canada?
A: The Business + Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that brings together some of Canada’s largest companies and leading post-secondary institutions. Since 2015, BHER has worked to harness the strengths of Canada’s business and post-secondary education sectors to build opportunities for young Canadians, boost innovation and drive collaboration.
BHER’s flagship work-integrated learning (WIL) initiative has the ultimate vision that by 2028, any post-secondary student in Canada who wants a WIL experience before they finish school can have one. To achieve this ambitious goal, we are working with partners to create new programs and opportunities for students, and developing tools and resources to help them get the most out of their WIL experiences.
Q: Your team recently announced the start of the Canada Comeback Challenge. Tell us a little bit about this challenge, and why student participants can positively impact their futures and those of their peers across Canada.
A: The Canada Comeback Challenge creates opportunities for post-secondary students to contribute to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery while gaining valuable work-integrated learning (WIL) experience. Between September and February, student teams will tackle real-world problems facing employers in Canada’s public, private, and non-profit sectors and compete for a chance to pitch their ideas to an esteemed panel of judges and for exciting prizes.
Students will also gain access to:
- Financial support to alleviate any financial barriers to participating and to provide the necessary resources to develop their solution and pitch.
- Expanded networks of peers, mentors and potential future employers.
- New experience to put on their resumes.
By signing up to participate in the Canada Comeback Challenge before October 18th, students can start building their teams and browsing the interesting and unique challenges submitted by Canadian employers. For instance, the Canada Council for the Arts wants to understand how arts funding organizations can assume responsibility for ensuring equitable funding support that is free of discrimination. Also, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind wants fresh ideas to help them create way-finding navigation signage accessible to the blind that also takes into account physical distancing measures.
Q: How do post-secondary students get involved in the Canada Comeback Challenge?
A: Post-secondary students can get involved by visiting studentchallenge.bher.ca and creating an account before October 4, 2020! Once they are logged into the web portal, they can build a team and find a challenge to work on. These challenges come directly from employers and reflect real problems they’re trying to overcome. There are three rounds in the competition with chances for mentorship and professional development at each step of the way. More information about each of the three rounds of the competition, including dates and deadlines can be found here.
Q: Today’s post-secondary students face unprecedented hurdles in our current pandemic fuelled environment. Looking ahead at the statistics, what skills should post-secondary students be focused on picking-up and learning now? What experience should they focus on gaining to be of the most value in our future workforce?
A: In many ways, the pandemic environment has reinforced the need to build on skills that employers were already looking for in a pre-pandemic environment. For instance, the recently released Investing in a Resilient Canadian Workforce: Business Council of Canada Skills Survey 2020, which surveyed 86 of Canada’s largest employers on their skills needs, showed that human skills such as collaboration, communication, and problem-solving were among the top skills employers are looking for. These are exactly the skills that students can develop by participating in the Canada Comeback Challenge.
Q: As a part of the BHER team, what do you love most about what you do? Any advice for students looking to work in the not-for-profit sector?
A: I love so many different parts of my job! I love the challenge of bringing employers and educators together in common cause. And I love seeing the ideas we have about how to help students, especially right now, come to life. It is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
As for advice, I would simply say that if a door opens for you, whether it’s a chance to work at a not-for-profit organization or something else, walkthrough! Learn the most you can from every experience. And maybe most importantly, think critically about how to tell your story. What did you learn during that last co-op term or from participating in our Canada Comeback Challenge? How does it make you better? What skills will transfer to your next job? Don’t assume employers will see your path. Shine a light on it so they can see it and see you. And what you have to offer.